Friday, May 30, 2008


One of my favourite German words is Schadenfreude—meaning taking delight in someone else’s misfortune. It’s always considered bad form to do this, of course, but when the person having troubles is George Bush, well, a little Schadenfreude is almost required.

This time, it’s George Bush’s former press secretary, Scott McClellan, whose tell-all book has Bush and his buddies squirming. What had me chuckling the most was Bush loyalists trying to make McClellan sound crazy (the “that doesn’t sound like Scott” line) to the White House trying to re-write history by pretending that McClellan was “basically” fired.

We know that Karl Rove was the evil genius behind the Bush-Cheney regime, and was probably deeply involved in all sorts of activities for which he will probably never be held accountable. We also all know that Bush himself will go down in history as the worst president in US history, so you expect them to try and squirm their way out of being caught by the truth.

You can really tell this regime is winding down. It smells like desperation. So a little Schadenfreude is completely understandable.

Only in America

There are times when I’m sure that America has gone absolutely insane. When I lived there, ordinary people would see something silly in the news, shake their heads, chuckle, and say, “only in America!” Now, that phrase seems to be attached mainly to truly bizarre American behaviour. Two bits from the recent news:

Dunkin’ for Terrorists

Celebrity TV cook Rachael Ray was at the centre of a right wing attack when she appeared in an online ad for Dunkin’ Donuts wearing a scarf that the frothing right said implied support for terrorists. (cue rolled eyes)

The main perpetrator was far-right commentator Michelle Malkin who complained that the scarf looked similar to the kaffiyeh, a traditional scarf worn by Palestinian men. According to America’s CBS News, Malkin wrote that the scarf “has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.” (cue to roll eyes again).

I’ve been blessed by not ever having to endure more than a minute or two of Malkin’s spewing, but I’ve read plenty of things she’s said, and she’s often beyond the extremes of extremism. So I could easily dismiss her complaint as the delusional ravings of an attention-seeking far, far-right nutcase.

However, Dunkin’ Donuts was so worried about it that they immediately caved and pulled the ad campaign. From a business perspective, they probably had no choice, but this shows how a small number of people at the extreme fringes of society can dictate what happens in America. “Left wing media bias”? Hah! The right wing—the far-right in particular—always gets its way—always.

Shootin’ fer Jesus

Meanwhile, BBC News reported last week that a car dealer in Missouri is giving away a free handgun with every vehicle sold. The dealer had only two buyers pick a petrol voucher instead, and for the rest he recommended a gun that, he said, was "a nice little handgun that fits in your pocket". (cue dropped jaw)

The car dealer’s motivation? "We did it because of Barack Obama.” Then, without a hint of irony, he went on: "He said all those people in the Midwest, you've got to have compassion for them because they're clinging to their guns and their Bibles. I found that quite offensive. We all go to church on Sunday and we all carry guns."

We all know that most Americans would find these two people to be, at best, a little odd or even downright crazy. But when people overseas hear about things like this, they have no idea that it’s not common. They see the far-right dictating everything and gun nuts looking to promote their guns at every opportunity. Add that to the disaster of the Bush-Cheney regime, and is it any wonder that America is no longer respected in the world?

In November, Americans have a chance to get rid of the cabal that’s been running America, and take back the nation from the far right ideologues. Whether they do or not will determine whether the phrase “only in America” will be attached only to the merely odd or to the truly insane.

Update 31/05/08: The Dunkin’ Donuts story was added to the New Zealand Herald’s website, which published a story from the Independent. Interestingly, this version claims the campaign started among wingnut blogs. Obviously wingnut blogs frothed mightily over this story, but this is the only place I saw this version of events reported. In any case, it just goes to show how this is the sort of thing that people outside the US see, which is why foreigners have a distorted view of America. It is distorted, isn't it?

Once again, thanks to fellow blogger Dawn for sending me stories she knew I’d have something to say about!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

AmeriNZ 92 - Moving to New Zealand

Episode 92 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can get it here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it through the player on the right hand side of my blog, or on my MySpace page. You can also download the file directly by right-clicking here.

Today’s episode is inspired by listener questions about moving to New Zealand and what the country’s like to live in. Today, I try to answer those questions.

In some ways, Episode 90 Kiwi Kustoms was part one of this topic because I talked about some of what it’s like to live in New Zealand. You also may want to listen to AmeriNZ 55 Being an expat (also inspired by listener questions).

I start with the question, why New Zealand? From there it’s a wide-ranging talk about healthcare, crime, politics and even the availability of products. I give some advice on how to prepare for moving here, and what you need to know.

For more information on immigration, go to the website of the New Zealand Immigration Service, immigration.govt.nz. They have a lot of information that will help you work out if you’re eligible to move here and more about New Zealand generally.

Then, an update on my podcast move, which is mostly done (all episodes are posted). The new site is http://amerinzpodcast.com, and the new feed is http://feeds.feedburner.com/AmerinzPodcast. You don’t need to change your iTunes subscriptions yet, but please start using the new site.

Leave a comment at the new site. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Links for this episode:
New Zealand Immigration Service
Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band (on the Podsafe Music Network)

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Monday, May 26, 2008

Good on ya, Scott

There are plenty of people who probably won’t know it, but New Zealander Scott Dixon won the Indianapolis 500 (to be fair, most years I'd have no idea who won). Obviously winning’s a good thing for him, and plenty New Zealanders will be happy about it. But if we all were Australian, there would be national spasms of joy. I caught a report about it on Sky News Australia this afternoon and they mentioned where the Australians placed. Of course.

In any case, well done, Scott.

McCain needs to do better

You’d think I’d applaud John McCain for finally rejecting the endorsement of the far-right Texas TV preacher and hatemonger, John Hagee. A little over a week ago, Hagee expressed “regret” about some of his remarks, but McCain didn’t repudiate Hagee. He now has, along with another far right preacher in Ohio.

So what?

McCain is only rejecting the endorsements because they were becoming a problem with rational people: Both said incredibly stupid things about other religions, things ordinary Americans would strongly reject, or things that the newsmedia would harp on about. That’s why McCain belatedly rejected the endorsements.

However, Hagee also said incredibly hatefilled things about gay people, but McCain wasn’t moved to repudiate Hagee over them. That’s because among the far right christianists that McCain’s trying to win over, being anti-gay is a badge of honour. If he repudiated the anti-gay hatemongering of Hagee and other preachers, he’d further risk losing the support of the frothing right of his own party.

So, yeah, McCain did the right thing in rejecting the endorsement of Hagee. But it would seem that attacking gay and lesbian Americans is still okay with him, just like Bush-Cheney. If he really is a “different kind of Republican”, he still has a long way to go to prove it. This was just one baby step.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

AmeriNZ 91 - Monique Rhodes

Episode 91 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can get it here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it through the player on the right hand side of my blog, or on my MySpace page. You can also download the file directly by right-clicking here.

Today’s special guest is New Zealand singer/songwriter, Monique Rhodes.

We talk about Monique’s music, her career, and her debut album, “Awakening”. Monique uses many online avenues to promote her music, and we talk a bit about the opportunities the online world offers to independent musicians.

Monique lives in France most of the year, so we even talk a bit about being an expat. Naturally, we talk about New Zealand as well, along with some of what influenced Monique’s development as a singer/songwriter.

She was wonderful to visit with, and I thoroughly enjoyed our chat. I also really enjoy her music. You can buy it through her website, www.moniquerhodes.com, as well as through iTunes. I’ll have complete links in the shownotes on my blog.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 46:16 (32.1 MB)

Links for this episode:
Monique Rhodes’ links: Podsafe Music Network
Monique’s website
Monique's MySpace page
Buy Monique's CD on CD Baby
Amplifier music site
iTunes (USA)
iTunes (New Zealand)

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

A new podcast episode is up—sort of

Yesterday, Podomatic, the current host for my podcast, “upgraded” and, in the process, pretty much imploded. Apparently, everything is taking around 24 hours to happen, which means my latest episode won’t be available on iTunes for at least 12 hours. This is just another in a long list of examples of why I’m moving my podcast away from Podomatic as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, you can listen to and manually download my latest episode at the new blog for my podcast. You can get there directly by clicking here (the full permalink is http://amerinzpodcast.com/?p=26). I’ll post the episode shownotes here later, but probably the only way to actually listen until it’s on iTunes is to go to the new site.

Rice a liar, too?

Condoleezza Rice, the current US Secretary of State, is either a liar or a moron. Take your pick.

In a recent appearance, she talked about the Bush-Cheney regime’s torture programme and said, “President Bush made clear that we were going to live up to our obligations at home and to our treaty obligations abroad.” That’s absolutely not true and, in fact, the regime went out of its way to come up with supposed legal “justification” for using torture, even though it was—and is—clearly illegal. As an insider, Rice was part of those deliberations, making her subject to war crimes charges.

If she now wants to rewrite history and claim something that’s clearly not true, she’s welcome to try. But too many people now know the truth, they know that the Bush-Cheney regime—of which she was a critical part—authorised and practised illegal torture. They know that she took part in clearly illegal activities, which, by the way, their buddy John McCain has steadfastly refused to denounce.

Torture is not just illegal, it’s also morally repugnant. We’re supposed to be better than that. No matter how much Rice tries to re-write history, that fact doesn’t change. Neither, apparently, do Bush-Cheney-McCain apologists.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Taxing times

One thing about this year’s elections in New Zealand is certain: Tax cuts will be an election issue. Forget all the important problems facing the country, the debate will be over who will cut taxes the most.

Yesterday Finance Minister Michael Cullen delivered his eighth budget and it included tax cuts that were higher than expected. Nevertheless, the right wing parties were quick to condemn them. The Opposition, the National Party, has made taxes cuts its central issue for the past five years or so.

Not so fast: Poll after poll shows that average Kiwis want money invested in the core areas of health and education. As times become harder, people look at tax cuts and think a little more money in their pocket each week would be nice. How to solve the dilemma?

The tax cuts announced by the Labour-led government are, as promised, aimed squarely at average New Zealanders, with the biggest percentage going to lower income workers. But when National talks tax cuts, they aim for upper income earners. That’s been National’s history for decades.

Labour has announced a budget that continues strategic investment in the country—its people included—and offers manageable tax cuts, too. They’re able to do so because their sound management of the economy has allowed investment in social services, the buying back of state assets sold off by the neoconservatives in the 1980s and 1990s and the prefunding of retirement funds for Baby Boomers. As a result, New Zealand has among the developed world’s lowest unemployment rates.

How would a National-led government fund its tax cuts? We can only guess, because their pledge is still an empty promise with no specifics, but their history suggests their cuts would be aimed at the rich and would be funded by a combination of “privatisation”, cuts to social services (even if by stealth) and chronic under-investment.

National is committed to selling off state owned assets, as they have in the past. However, they’ve also pledged not to do it in a first term. To get around that problem with state-owned companies, they’d increase dramatically shares sold to the public, thereby diluting the people’s shareholding—effectively selling off the asset without selling it off. They’ve already announced plans to have school buildings privately owned and rented back at market rates and to raise doctors’ fees so that average Kiwis will pay more for basic healthcare and schools will have less money to teach children. Politically they may not be able to get away with cutting health and education budgets, but by holding spending levels it amounts to the same thing—a cut by stealth. And they wouldn’t invest in public housing or other social infrastructure.

We know what National would do because that’s what they’ve done before, and many of the crowd that allowed New Zealand to decline in the 1990s are still in the National Party Caucus, still wielding power.

We also know what Labour will do because we’ve seen it over the past nine years: Invest in the people of New Zealand, make the country a better place than it was in the 1990s and position it for even greater things in the years ahead. Given a choice between the sound, steady policies of Labour and the empty stealth policies of the National Party, I know what I’d choose: I’m sticking with Labour.

End ‘marriage’?

The recent California Supreme Court ruling in favour of marriage equality in that state has again stirred up opponents who cling to the weird notion that it will somehow destroy marriage. Despite lacking any intellectual justification for their position, it’s one they cling to fiercely.

An often-suggested alternative is to allow same-sex couples to enter into marriage-like relationships. Some are equivalent to marriage, like New Zealand’s Civil Unions, but others are dramatically inferior, and none have equality with marriage when it comes to US federal law, including taxes (in fact, even same sex marriages from Massachusetts and, soon, California don’t exist for federal purposes).

I’m not a big fan of “separate but equal” as a matter of principle, but if calling our legal relationships something else makes nervous heterosexuals willing to give us the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage, then I’ve said I can live with “separate but equal” provided that it’s truly equal to marriage in every way.

But what if we ended “marriage” as a state function altogether? What if the only legal recognition went to civil unions, open to gay and straight couples alike? Marriage itself could be left to churches to argue about, getting government out of the business of managing a religious function.

Eric Zorn, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, just suggested exactly that. Zorn points out, correctly, that at its core, marriage is a contract between two people. It has nothing to do with religion, which is primarily concerned with other matters. He wrote:

Let the various churches, denominations and other belief groups decide who gets to perform the marriage ritual with whom, and leave the blessing and the consecrating to religious institutions. And let the government handle the contract end of things. That's government's job—outlining the binding nitty-gritty of mutual obligations and privileges in legally sanctioned relationships.

I’ve been saying the same thing for years.

What about the huge disagreement among religions? Some would marry gay couples, others wouldn’t. Who would “really” be married? In answer to such a question, Zorn said “who decrees who is baptized and who isn't? Who is confirmed and who isn't? Who is ordained and who isn't? Who is a true convert and who isn't?” All very good points, and none of the things that Zorn lists are concerns of government. Why should marriage be, either?

I don’t expect to see any move in this direction in most places, and I don’t think most heterosexuals will see this a compromise, as Zorn suggests it is. However, I do think this is a way forward, one that focuses on what gay people want—legal equality and the dignity that is their right as citizens—and what some heterosexuals want—keeping marriage for themselves.

But in any case, getting government out of the business of managing what is essentially a religious sacrament has got to be a good thing for both government and religion. Or is this just too practical a solution for either side to adopt?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oily liars

The other day, New Zealand’s TV One News reported on the rising costs of petrol, recreating almost directly an American CBS News report in which they played 2005 person-at-the-pump interviews about high prices. The report quoted—without a hint of irony—oil companies declaring that they weren’t gouging New Zealand drivers with high profits, but that they were subject to the same increasing costs as in other countries.

The same sick joke was played out in front of the US Senate. Dick Durbin, the US Senator form my home state of Illinois, was one of several Senators to grill oil company executives over their high prices. “Is there anybody here who has any concerns about what you’re doing to this country?” he asked.

Some oil executive (doesn’t matter who it was, since they all say the same thing) replied that it wasn’t their high profits driving fuel prices higher, but soaring worldwide demand. They stick to that line because—in a literalist sense—it’s true. But that doesn’t make it the truth.

The huge demand for petroleum in China and India, along with the continued high demand in Western countries, has been met with flat supply on purpose: The oil producing nations aren’t increasing production, but, if anything, suppressing it to drive up the cost of petroleum. In addition, refining capacity, especially for the United States, hasn’t increased. All of that has, as the oil companies say, driven up prices. That much is true.

However, as the prices soar, so, too, do the profits of the oil companies. As they reach ever more obscene profit levels, ordinary people have a right to wonder why they’re allowed to get away with that. After all, it’s not like they’ve done anything to deserve the higher profits, they just automatically go up as the price does.

So when the oil industry says their profits aren’t causing soaring prices at the pump, they may be accurate, but they’re not being truthful. They could very well cut their profits to slow rising prices, but their shareholders would sack them if they tried to act as if they had, you know, an ounce of humanity.

We all know that whatever the corporate propaganda says, oil company profits are, in fact, helping to squeeze ordinary consumers so that shareholders can get rich. Sometimes, it seems, it’s possible to tell the truth and still lie.

Two weeks later

Two weeks ago today, I had my Intralase CustomLASIK eye surgery. I haven’t talked about the actual procedure on the blog, so I thought I’d go over the highlights, followed by a small update.

First, the highlights of the highlights: The whole thing was remarkably fast, I had no real pain and recovered pretty quickly. The results have been very good.

I arrived for my appointment early, and was given a mild sedative. They put a topical anesthetic in my eyes, followed by antibiotic/disinfectant (to kill any bugs lurking there). That stung a bit but, I was told, it would’ve stung a LOT without the anesthetic.

I was led into theatre (what we Americans call an operating room), and helped to lie down on a bed thing. I was manoeuvred under the first laser, which cuts a flap in the thin film that covers the cornea. They placed a sort of retractor thing on my eye to keep my lids open, which was a little uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as it sounds.

I was told to look at a light and the laser did its work. I was told my eyesight would get very cloudy or even go black (mine went black), but not to worry (I didn’t). This procedure hurt; I think it was some sort of pressure on my eye or something, but it was pretty uncomfortable. Fortunately, it only lasted maybe 20 seconds per eye.

I was swung over to the second laser, the one that reshapes the cornea. The eye doctor flipped back the flap and the laser went to work. They put a retractor on my eye again, and this wasn’t at all uncomfortable (I have no idea if they were the same or different, or if the first laser was pressing down in it, but the first was definitely more uncomfortable). I was told to stare at a red light, but as the machine worked, it turned into a sort of cloud of little red dots.

The machine made a kind of buzzing and clicking noise as it worked, and it only took a little longer than the first procedure. There was an odd smell, a bit like slightly singed hair mixed with some other smell (spice?), but not offensive at all. They finished one eye, put the flap back, covered the eye, then did the other one. When they were finished, they covered the second eye and uncovered the first so I could see where I was going as they led me out of theatre.

I sat in a recliner, they put some drops in my eyes, and I rested. After awhile they took me into an exam room where the eye doctor checked my eyes, put in some more drops, and taped goggles to my face. That was it. The actual procedure was only a few minutes, and with waiting and exam time, the whole thing was maybe an hour and a half or so.

My eyes were sensitive to daylight afterward, and if I opened my eyes they teared quite a bit. Once I got home, I had some lunch and went to bed. By this time, my eyes felt as if dust had blown into them—not gritty or painful, just uncomfortable. I dozed for about an hour, took another round of pain relief and went back to sleep.

Four or five hours later I woke up, and my eyes felt pretty good—the discomfort was gone. I couldn’t see very well, in part because of those goggles, but I watched a little TV anyway. I went to bed early. I didn't use the sleep aid they sent home with me, nor any more pain relief.

The next morning, I went in for my first check-up appointment. They removed the goggles, did a quick check, put in drops, and told me to put in various drops myself. I then saw the eye doctor who checked everything thoroughly and I was cleared to drive.

One week later, I went for another check, the eye doctor said my corneas look really good (and how often does somebody say that to you?). My next appointment is at the one-month mark.

The adjustment I’ve had is comparable to getting a new pair of glasses or contacts—the new, stronger prescription takes awhile to get used to. When I wore contacts, my left eye was stronger than my right; now it’s the other way around, and that’s taken some getting used to, as well.

I can now see all day, ever day—including in the middle of the night—all of which is a new experience for me. I’ve had no discomfort, not even any dryness, and I’m adjusting to the new, better vision.

My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. Still, I’m glad it’s done and I’m enjoying the results. I’d recommend it to anyone, even big ol’ chickens like me.

I also discussed the procedure on my podcast, AmeriNZ Podcast episode 88.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

AmeriNZ 90 - Kiwi Kustoms

Episode 90 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can get it here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it through the player on the right hand side of my blog, or on my MySpace page. You can also download the file directly by right-clicking here.

Today I tell you some of what it’s like living in New Zealand. This comes from a question from a listener who asked about the character and pace of daily life in NZ compared to the US. So I tell you about a few small things you probably wouldn’t read in a book or article, and put those things into a larger context.

This is all in a lead-up to my episode about moving to New Zealand, which I’ll be recording next week. If you have a question about that, or about New Zealand generally, send an email to me at arthur(at]amerinz.com by the weekend.

I also have an update on the changes to my podcast hosting, including the new website/blog for the shownotes, though it’s too early to make any changes, like to bookmarks, etc.

After comments, I tell you about Episode 91, which will be a special episode.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 25:37 (23.8 MB)

Links for this episode
Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

No buy, no fly, no sense

Everyone knows how the Bush-Cheney regime has used its supposed “war on terrorism” as a justification of all sorts of draconian, fascistic, even, anti-civil liberties rules and laws. The regime has sometimes gone out of its way to repeal fundamental human rights in its zeal to wage war—far too often—on innocent people.

There’s been a lot of publicity about its “no fly list” which is supposed to keep alleged terrorists and others off planes in the US. Reports have shown how the list was so badly put together, so poorly maintained and, in typical Bush-Cheney incompetence, that many, many innocent people have been denied seats on flights. There’s also documented evidence that the list has been used to make it harder for dissidents—opponents of the Bush-Cheney regime—to fly around the US.

Now we find out there are similar problems with a “no buy list”. The list is maintained by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and, according to America’s CBS News, “keeps track of known terrorists, drug traffickers, and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction”. That last one doesn’t include US arms manufacturers, by the way.

CBS News goes on to report that the list “has more than 7,000 names and aliases, and companies aren't allowed to do business with anyone on the list. In fact, they have to check the list before any credit transactions can take place.”

Trouble is, with typical Bush-Cheney regime incompetence, the list is administered very badly, with no guidance given to those who are forced to refer to it. CBS News reported that Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights “put out a report documenting dozens of cases of consumers who were denied homes, health insurance, even the purchase of a treadmill because of an OFAC alert.” Just like the “no fly” list, it’s very difficult to get off the “no buy” list once you’re on it.

The Republicans in Congress established the Bush-Cheney list and required that banks and other institutions refer to it. But the Bush-Cheney Treasury Department has done nothing to clarify how the list is to be used.

Add this to the seemingly endless list of reasons why the end of the Bush-Cheney regime and Republican rule in Congress can’t come soon enough. Roll on January!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Christian gene

Satire is something that people get or they don’t. There’s not much middle ground. This video (via Kim Beaver) is satire by the team at “Chasers” on ABC television (Australia). They became infamous when they managed to get through the “tight security” at the APEC summit in Sydney with a cast member dressed as Osama bin Laden.

This video pokes fun at the whole search for a “gay gene” and how absurd the very pursuit is. The hard fact is that no one’s interested in “curing” heterosexuality, so they’re not looking for its “cause”. Those facts are lost on the far right christianists who are also implicitly lampooned in the video.

As it happens, researchers have pretty conclusively shown that sexuality has a genetic component and that homosexuality is just a normal human variation, occurring with roughly the same frequency as left-handedness. You won’t read about that in the American media, however, because far right christianists persist in saying, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that homosexuality is a “choice”. If the genetic origin of sexuality were found without the means to “change” it, then all their justifications for their hatred and oppression of gay people would vanish and they’d be exposed as the bigots they are.

The fact that far right christianists want to “cure” homosexuality means they can’t see the satire in a video pretending that researchers found a “Christian gene”. For proof of that, all you need to do is read the YouTube comments to see how thick and/or blinkered some people really are.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hearing is believing

There are few things as satisfying as vindication. To say something but to have no proof, nor any way of proving it, is annoying, even when other people agree with you. When that proof finally arrives, there’s almost a sense of relief about it.

There are a lot of people who will be feeling that now.

For a long, long time, people have talked about how TV commercials in New Zealand are louder than the programmes. It’s annoying and it’s obvious to everyone, but the networks consistently denied that was the case. In other words, they were telling us it was all our imagination.

The New Zealand Herald has done what needed to be done and commissioned tests of the loudness of TV commercials. Surprise, surprise, the results found that commercials are louder—ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent louder than the TV programme they were interrupting.

The networks weren’t too keen on talking about the results, and mainly continue to say that commercials fall within allowed limits. They then descend into techno-babble about how the commercials aren’t really louder. The study, however, proves the truth.

Consumer advocates are demanding regulation to end the blaring ads, much as Britain is introducing limits. We either need that or for the networks to accept some responsibility for what they broadcast. In the meantime, I’ll do what I’ve done for a long time and hit the “mute” button when the ads come on, which means I won’t hear the advertiser’s message at all, regardless of the volume.

In any case, it’s nice we were finally proven right.

Friday, May 16, 2008

AmeriNZ 89 – One day

Episode 89 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 with a quick update on my laser eye surgery, one week later. That’s followed by a quick update about podcast meta stuff. Then, it’s on to a discussion of the US presidential race. Does Edwards’ endorsement of Obama matter to me? Do I think Hillary Clinton should drop out?

A phone comment lets me move on to talk a bit about New Zealand politics, which will become a common topic in the weeks ahead. Speaking of New Zealand, later this month I’ll be doing an episode about moving to New Zealand. Is there anything you want to know about that, or about New Zealand? Send me an email!

Comments allow me to expand my own comments. Then, to end the episode, I offer a “final thought for the week” called “One Day,” a podcast exclusive! It won’t be posted on my blog.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 24:30 (22.6 MB)

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Bush, the offensive liar

George Bush just can’t help himself: With the vast majority of Americans now opposed to the Bush-Cheney regime, he can’t say much of anything without offending the majority of Americans. But today he sunk to new lows of mendacity, even for a regime known for little else.

In Israel, ostensibly to observe the 60th anniversary of the country’s founding, he deliberately injected US domestic politics into the wrong place at the wrong time. In his speech, he compared those who would engage in dialogue with Iran to those who tried to appease Hitler. White House apologists later tried to claim that Bush wasn’t trying to smear any Democrat. He’s lying—we all know that, and he does, too, because that’s exactly what he was doing.

John McCain made sure the American media knew that’s what Bush meant. McCain, who famously sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb Iran…” at a campaign stop, repeated the Bush-Cheney mantra that the US cannot even talk with opponents. That’s because Bush-Cheney-McCain believe in waging war as the first and only answer to everything.

Bush injecting US politics into an international trip was absolutely wrong. Saying what he did was sick and offensive to all Americans. Denying he was doing so was a blatant lie. And McCain? Once again: Bush, Cheney, McCain—they’re all the same.

An important win for the good guys

Today the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on marriage equality in that state. Gay men and lesbian women in California will be able to marry their same-sex partner. I was kind of optimistic that this would be the ruling, but after so many setbacks and disappointments, it couldn’t be counted on.

The radical right—that alliance of political and social wingnuts and far right christianists—will, of course, go absolutely batshit crazy over this ruling. Being angry is what they’re best at, after all (in fact, I don’t think they’re happy unless they’re in a frothing rage at something or someone). They’re organising for a ballot initiative that, if adopted, would enshrine bigotry into the state’s constitution. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has pledged his opposition to the amendment, which is similar to another conservative California Republican: Ronald Reagan, ex-Governor of California and soon to run for President, defied the religious right and opposed the viciously anti-gay Briggs Initiative in 1978.

All this matters because as the most populous US state, California often sets trends that eventually find their way into the other 49 states. Once marriage equality becomes just another part of the California landscape, it’ll be much easier for other states to abandon the hate and paranoia of the right.

It’s sometimes said that one can oppose marriage equality without being a homophobe. In theory, that’s true, but in practice, it seldom is when you’re talking about public opposition. The people who are leading the charge against marriage equality are the same ones who spout lies and hatred against gay and lesbian people. The leaders against marriage equality are obsessed with the issue, and with gay people generally. They’ve made themselves enemies of freedom and the core conservative value of limited government. Real conservatives understand this and wouldn’t go to the barricades over the issue, and they certainly wouldn’t try to enshrine their view into a constitution, as the radical right wants to do. But real conservatives are seldom heard, though Schwarzenegger may start a trend.

Some observers worry that this ruling—and an initiative on the November ballot—might energise the far right. They worry that while a pro-bigotry initiative on the California ballot won’t hurt Democrats in that state, it might threaten Democrats in other states.

But the far right and the Republican Party will attempt to use and demonise gay people regardless, and whether or not their pro-bigotry amendment gets on the California ballot. They would have done so no matter how the court ruled. In fact, they’ll demonise a lot of people as they try anything to keep power; gay people will be just one of their targets.

So this is an important ruling, and an important win for the good guys. For too long the radical right has dictated public and social policy in the US. It’s about time that ordinary Americans got their country back from the far right ideologues who’ve been trying to destroy it and what it stands for. This is one step; the November elections offer the chance for another one.

Update: As expected, John McCain who, just like George Bush, opposes marriage equality, condemned the ruling and lent his support to the pro-bigotry amendment in California. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support civil unions, but have said that marriage itself should be up to the states to decide for themselves. Ironic, isn’t it? The people backing the traditional Republican position are both Democrats. The Republican candidate, meanwhile, backs the radical right incarnation of Republican principles that have ruled the party for many years now. “Different kind of Republican”? Nope. McCain isn’t even a real Republican: He’s just the same as Bush-Cheney.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Protecting polar bears, but not too much

On the face off it, this is a story I certainly didn’t expect to read:
WASHINGTON - The Interior Department declared the polar bear a threatened species Wednesday because of the loss of Arctic sea ice…
However, that same articles said:
The department outlined a set of administrative actions and limits to how it planned to protect the bear with its new status so that it would not have wide-ranging adverse impact on economic activities from building power plants to oil and gas exploration. [emphasis added]
In other words, the Bush-Cheney regime is just pretending to act, issuing a declaration just to make people think they actually care about climate change.

Even so, it's a significant shift in rhetoric. The article reported that at the press conference announcing the move, the Interior Secretary…
was armed with slides and charts showing the dramatic decline in sea ice over the last 30 years and projections that the melting of ice—a key habitat for the bear—would continue and may even quicken… He cited conclusions by department scientists that sea ice loss will likely result in two-thirds of the polar bears disappearing by mid-century.
Last year, a British judge lampooned the idea that polar bears were dying, a theme that was picked up by the right wing media, even here in New Zealand. To have the current champions of right wing ideology acknowledge the inconvenient truth is a kind of progress. Too bad the Bush-Cheney regime isn’t serious about doing anything about it.

McCain’s hatemonger feigns 'regret'

In an attempt to bolster the campaign of John McCain, the far right Texas TV preacher whose endorsement John McCain was “very honored” to have, has apologised, sort of, to Catholics for his many anti-Catholic pronouncements. The rest of his hate-filled rhetoric still stands, apparently, and McCain apparently still agrees with Hagee.

Hagee was noted for calling the Roman Catholic church "the apostate church" and the "great whore," terms which anti-Catholic far right christianists in America have long used as terms of denigration. He also implied that the Roman Catholic Church’s history led to Hitler, ignoring the fact that Protestant churches were not immune to anti-Semitism.

In a letter to an outspoken Roman Catholic leader, Hagee admitted he went too far. He wrote, in part, “In my zeal to oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its ugly forms…” A bit rich, isn’t it? The man says he thought he was “opposing” bigotry by promoting it. Classic.

Hagee previously declared that “the Katrina” destroyed New Orleans because of gay people. He’s written that “feminists” represent "a rebellion against God's pattern for the family," apparently because they demand equal pay for equal work and other “un-godly” concepts.

McCain steadfastly refused to repudiate Hagee for his hatemongering, and instead weakly suggested that “any comments that he made about the Catholic Church I strongly condemn, of course.” Maybe so, but he still reiterated that he was “glad to have” Hagee’s support.

McCain is a hypocrite. He demanded that Obama repudiate Jeremiah Wright for things he said, but McCain steadfastly refused to repudiate Haggee’s hate-filled remarks. By having Hagee say he has “deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful,” McCain got himself off the hook.

Apparently, in Republican politics, and the McCain campaign, hatred against Catholics cannot be permitted—they might vote for McCain. But gay people and “feminists”? Hate on them all you want.

Hate is wrong. Hatemongering is even worse. McCain has a duty to explain why he thinks that Hagee’s anti-Catholic hatemongering is wrong, but his equally offensive hatemongering against gay people and women is okay.

Tell the truth for a change, McCain: Do you or do you not agree with Hagee about gay people and women? In the absence of a direct answer to a direct question, we will all have to assume that McCain thinks Hagee’s hatemongering is okay. And if McCain thinks that, as his continuing silence suggests, he’s not fit to be a Senator, much less president.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

AmeriNZ 88 - Seeing again for the first time

Episode 88 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.

It’s now five days since I had my LASIK eye surgery, and today I tell you about that and why it was such a big deal for me. The whole thing wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, and it all turned out well. I tell you about the day, the immediate aftermath and what the situation is so far.

Comments then give me the chance to talk a bit more about my impending feed change, which is moving closer. I’m planning a special episode later this month—more details to follow.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 32:36 (30 MB)

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Courting John McSame’s defeat

As the Democrats in the US move ever closer to officially picking a nominee, the reasons why it is so important to defeat John McCain are becoming clearer. All of these can be summed up this way: 82 percent of Americans believe America is on the wrong track, so picking McCain—who represents four more years of Bush-Cheney policies—is the wrong thing to do.

But two Bush-Cheney-McCain policies stand above the others. First, of course, is Iraq, where McCain thinks another century of armed occupation of Iraq is a good idea. Bush-Cheney-McCain are completely out of step with ordinary Americans on this.

The other issue is probably harder for voters to focus on, but in some ways, it’s even more critical: The US Supreme Court. The next president will appoint perhaps three new justices, and McCain has already announced that the Bush-Cheney nominees "would serve as the model for my own nominees”.

The Washington Post reported recently that McCain condemned "the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power". That’s typical far-right deception—the far-right is perfectly happy with judges using their unlimited powers as long as they use those powers to back what the far-right wants: A total ban on all abortions, preventing recognition of gay, lesbian and transgendered people’s human rights and relationships and the promotion of government-mandated christianist religion, among other things.

“My nominees will understand that there are clear limits to the scope of judicial power, and clear limits to the scope of federal power," McCain said. Yeah, those “limits” are that the rule of law and the rights of the people will be trampled in pursuit of the far-right agenda. In support of this, McCain also announced that a “who’s who” of far-right ideologues and extremists on judicial issues will advise him on his judicial selections, should he be elected.

So, why does this all matter? Bush-Cheney-McCain prefer hard-right judges who are also young—meaning their rulings will bind America for at least a generation, maybe two. The primary goal of the right wing is to install judges who will overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that allowed safe, legal abortions. They also want to overturn GLBT rights protections and to forever outlaw marriage equality.

Alito, a Justice appointed by Bush-Cheney and offered as an example by McCain, has already written that there’s no constitutionally protected right to abortion—in other words, he’s a sure vote against Roe v Wade. Roberts, the other Justice appointed by Bush-Cheney and McCain’s other example, issued the ruling that prevented public access to the records of Cheney’s super-secret meetings in which the energy industry (oil, gas, coal) dictated Bush-Cheney’s “energy policy” without consultation from environmentalists or anyone who disagrees with energy companies (without a public release of the records, we have no reason to believe they considered opposing views at all).

So the Bush-Cheney-McCain style judges believe in using the power of government to promote far right ideas and the dictatorial powers of the presidency. They seem more like enemies of the Constitution, rather than wise adjudicators, yet Bush-Cheney-McCain think they’re perfect judges.

Americans who value the rule of law, civil rights and liberties or the separation of powers have a duty to ensure the defeat of John McCain. A different kind of Republican? Bull. He is just like Bush-Cheney in every way that maters. He is John McSame.

(Tip o’ the hat to fellow blogger Dawn, who sent me the link to the Post article).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Is deceit ever permissible?

Is it okay to lie? Sometimes? Is deception okay if it’s for a noble purpose?

The folks at New Zealand’s Land Transport Safety Authority are arguing that it is. The goal of making New Zealand drivers safer justifies the means, they say.

Recently, the LTSA began running commercials with a woman sitting stiffly looking at the camera. She speaks in halting language, affected, it seems, by a stroke or something. She talks about how she didn’t know about “side curtain airbags before my accident”. Clearly, her brain was damaged by a side-impact collision.

Except, she wasn’t real: It turns out she was an Australian actress who was portraying—convincingly, I might add—a woman who suffered brain damage from a car accident.

LTSA says there’s nothing wrong with the commercial, and that it’s no different than ads that depict crashes. They argue that since they don’t actually crash cars for collision commercials, and use actors, this is no different.

It’s way different.

People know that collision ads are fake. They know that the people are all actors, that the ads are intended to make a point. But the current ad uses fakery to deceive people into feeling personally for the “victim”. That doesn’t make people change their behaviour—it makes them resentful of the deception, of being tricked.

Maybe in retrospect it would have been too exploitative to use a real crash victim. But if it was, then using an actor to fake being a brain injury victim is just plain wrong. There are better ways to present information than to try and trick viewers.

Update 30/6/08: After briefly disappearing from TV screens, the ad is now back. Does this make things worse? Meanwhile, an anti-smoking commercial featuring a man who suffered oral cancer form smoking, and who can barely talk with his partial tongue and finger over the tube in his trachea, has made people ask first, is it real, and then they make fun of it. It looks as if the faked crash victim commercial may have had a greater affect than what I originally noted above.

TV nation

Sometimes connections come unexpectedly. A blog post can be linked to and passed on and sometimes the author may not even know it.

Recently, that happened to me.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a truly awful New Zealand television programme. I used some particularly blunt words, saying the programme “was so bad, so cringe-making, so bloody awful that I count it among the worst television programmes I’ve ever seen.”

That caught the attention of someone and the post ended up being excerpted and linked to at a New Zealand site called Throng (the link is here). Until then, I didn’t even know the site existed, but after the link there was a spike in new (and temporary) visitors. In fact, for a time it became the second-biggest single source of visitors to my blog (after those who come directly—regular readers, in other words).

Sometimes, you just don’t know where your words will end up. Maybe the real truth in this is that television is the great unifier and people are passionate about it. If so, that’s a good thing: I have plenty more to say about it.

So who’s got the cakes, cookies and tea for these new visitors?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Seeing again for the first time

There’s no way to describe what it’s like after LASIK eye surgery. But if I were to try, I’d say that there aren’t many surgical procedures I can think of that are as nearly miraculous as this one is.

I was incredibly near-sighted. Glasses were first prescribed when I was about 8, though like a lot of kids that age, I simply refused to wear them. I was around 12 when my vision became so bad that I had to start wearing glasses full-time. I didn’t refuse anymore.

This started a series of prescription changes as the years rolled on until I turned 21 and bought my first set of soft contact lenses. I’d endure daily lens care rituals for the next 28 years, and periodically I still had to buy glasses to be able to see when I wasn’t wearing my contacts.

During the night, I couldn’t see a thing. If I had to get up, I had to find my glasses and put them on. Even then I couldn’t see very well. Without glasses or contacts, I couldn’t see anything apart from general shapes.

Immediately after the surgery, I couldn’t see much. My eyes were stinging and watering a lot. When that stopped after a few hours, I still had to look through those “bug eyes”, which wasn’t easy.

The next morning, I saw pretty well, despite the “bug eyes”. At the doctor’s office, the goggles were removed and I was tested. Although I don’t know the specific results (they didn’t say, and I didn’t ask), to me my vision seemed to be at least nearly normal, or even actually normal. I was cleared to drive (though vision requirements for driving are really low). It’ll take about three months for my vision to stabilise, so my current vision isn’t necessarily how it’ll end up, for better or worse.

The important thing is that I can now see without any correction at all for the first time in around 40 years. If I’d never worn contacts, this change would be as dramatic as that sounds. Since I did, I notice the difference mainly at night. An example: Our clock radio is on a dresser across the room from the bed. I’ve never been able to read it at night, but now I can. The first night, I looked at the clock several times—just because I could. I can see from the moment I wake up until I close my eyes at night.

Of course, I’m already glad to be rid of the lens care rituals morning and night, but it’s the little things I notice and appreciate—not just seeing the clock, but other things like the fact that I can take a nap whenever I want to. One downside, though: I’m no longer immune from the irritation caused by cutting onions. Small price to pay.

I’ll write about the actual procedure another time, after I talk about it on my next podcast episode. In the meantime, I highly recommend the procedure for anyone considering it. The results can be, yes, miraculous.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

In recovery

The LASIK eye surgery seemed to go well. I've been sleeping most of the day, and wearing these goggles things. "Biggles", Nigel calls me. Back to the doctor tomorrow morning for a check, but so far, so good.

Update 09/05/08: This morning I had my day-after check-up and everything looks good and I was cleared to drive.

Another Bushie goin’ down

Yet another official in the Bush-Cheney regime is facing a criminal investigation for alleged wrongdoing as an Administration official. America’s NPR reported that the FBI raided the office and home of Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch. Bloch runs the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which investigates complaints of discrimination within the government.

Appointed by Bush in 2004, Bloch immediately caused a stir when his first official act was to refuse to investigate any claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. When word of that leaked out, Block reportedly blamed the career staff (in other words, professionals who are not political appointees). He allegedly retaliated by creating a field office in Detroit, Michigan, and telling his suspects that they were being transferred there or they could resign. This is a violation of the Hatch Act.

The Inspector General started investigating, and Block called in a service to purge the office computers, he says because they were filled with viruses. This is a prima facie case of impeding a federal investigation and obstruction of justice.

The FBI shut down the email system of the OSC and seized computers and they interviewed Block himself. A grand jury has issued subpoenas to staff members, indicating that a criminal investigation is underway.

The surprising thing here isn’t that another Bush-Cheney official may be heading to prison, but that more haven’t yet faced criminal investigation and charges. If justice truly prevails, we’ll be seeing criminal charges laid for many years to come.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

AmeriNZ 87 – On a non-knife edge

Episode 87 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 start today with some important updates on access to my podcast. There will be a new site and a new feed, but you don’t need to do anything yet. I’ll give you plenty of warning before change is needed.

Then I give you some updates on topics from earlier episodes.

I share a couple news items: Another Bush-Cheney official, an anti-gay ideologue, is facing criminal investigation. Also, an Australian survey has found that men in that country are changing—becoming “pansies” as one Aussie moron put it.

In honour of New Zealand Music Month, my outtro today is “Queen of a World” by NZ performer Monique Rhodes from the Podsafe Music Network on music.podshow.com. Complete links are on my shownotes.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 34:31 (31.7 MB)

Links for this episode

Monique Rhodes: Podsafe Music Network, Monique’s website or the Amplifier music site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Left wing wowsers

It’s not unusual for me to criticise the right wing and right wing wowsers in particular. I guess that’s a bit like saying the sun rises in the East. Even so, little in politics irritates me more than those so sure of their own righteousness that they focus on going after the rest us for what they adamantly believe is sin.

The right wing has raised that to an art form, but the left wing does it, too. The motley leftist grouping known as the NZ Green Party is an example, and nowhere is that more evident than on environmental issues.

The Greens are obsessed with their cause and demand that we all do as they say, whatever the cost. So when the Government announced that it was delaying a petrol tax related to the Kyoto Protocols for three years due to the record high cost of petroleum, they were beside themselves with anger. So much so that they’re talking about withdrawing their support for another Kyoto Protocol-related initiative, formation of an emissions trading system—despite the fact that it would further their overall goals. Talk about throwing your toys out of the cot!

The Greens’ overall emphasis on environmental issues would ordinarily win them sympathy and some support among the general population, me included. However, their often elitist attitude to such issues cancels out that goodwill. For example, they oppose any new road construction, despite the demonstrable harm that the current gridlocks do to the economy because, they say, the money “ought” to be spent on pubic transport instead. The buses they crave would be, of course, caught up in the same gridlock that they don’t want to fix, but that detail eludes them.

By demanding that ordinary New Zealanders pay an additional 8 cents per litre for petrol on top of already record-high prices and soaring food prices shows how out of touch they are with the needs of ordinary New Zealanders. The Labour-led Government has a taken a practical step to ease financial burdens on ordinary New Zealanders while we wait for world economic conditions to improve.

Real politicians realise that sometimes compromise is a necessary evil, but more often than not, the Greens come across as tut-tutting killjoys determined that people should not have the conveniences of modern life. They need to balance their principles with the needs of ordinary New Zealanders. They should lead voters to their principles and stop trying to force ordinary New Zealanders to submit. The Government has taken a sensible action, regardless of what the Greens think.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Workin’ on the railroad

The New Zealand Government today announced that it was buying the railroads back from Australian-owned Toll Holdings for $665 million. The Opposition, the conservative National Party, immediately condemned it as “reckless”; they would—they’re the ones who sold it off in a fire sale in the 1990s.

The railroad has deteriorated ever since it was sold, with many services abandoned, tracks ripped up and other services allowed to fall into disrepair. In 2003, the NZ Government bought the tracks back from Toll for one dollar. The move today puts the whole thing back in taxpayers’ ownership.

This is a great move. Some assets are too important to be left in private hands, especially when the profit motive means a company won’t invest in infrastructure or work to promote the country’s general interests, like getting freight off the roads and onto trains (Toll also ships freight by truck, so it had no incentive to make rail better).

The National Party said recently that it wouldn’t sell any national assets during its first term, should it win the coming election. This is despite the fact that for around 20 years party policy has been to sell off all state-owned assets. Deputy National Party Leader Bill English recently said that National would sell off the railroads—again—but seems to have been contradicted by the Party Leader. It’s hard to tell which side of National to believe, but I certainly won’t take the risk.

Slowly this government has undone much of the damage done by the neoconservatives in the 1980s and 1990s. To be sure, back then economic reform was overdue, but they went way too far, to the detriment of New Zealand. This Labour-led Government is finally restoring balance. Actually, you could say that they’re getting New Zealand back on track.

More weirdness

The AP reported that a man in Zion, Illinois has petitioned the Lake County Circuit Court to change his name to “In God We Trust”. The article says “he's worried that atheists may succeed in removing the phrase… from U.S. currency.”

I’ve long said that American currency shouldn’t be promoting any religious belief, though most Americans don’t agree with me on that. Neither, it should be noted, would any conceivable majority on the US Supreme Court. So, the man’s concerns are at best unwarranted and at worst, paranoid. The phrase will stay on American money and—quite frankly—I really don’t care; there are far more important issues to deal with.

Apparently, part of the man’s motivation was that in 1992 a court found that Zion’s village motto “God Reigns” was unconstitutional (I think that their village seal had a cross and a crown, too, but I may not remember that correctly).

The article notes that “Zion was founded as a theocracy — by a sect that believed the Earth was flat.” When I was growing up, the village was a joke in the rest of Lake County, even among religious people, for how absurd it was. There was a high crime rate in Zion, and a lot of alcohol and drug-related problems there, too—all in a supposedly “religious” town. We used to joke that maybe their problems were caused by radiation from the nearby nuclear power plant.

I had a quick look to see if the wingnuts were championing the guy’s cause, but they’re not yet—or maybe he’s too nutty even for them. In any case, I got a good chuckle once again from the crazy things my fellow Americans get up to, and how weird Zion apparently still is. Still, wouldn’t you think there would be a few more important things for him to do with his time?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weirder and weirder

There have been plenty of times I’ve wondered about the sanity of my fellow Americans, or, at least, despaired about the condition my homeland is in: Irrational voting behaviour, religious fanaticism, the demonising of immigrants, citizens willingly giving up basic freedoms—all this and more.

So I guess it should come as no surprise to me that the descent of America should be played out on national television. Nevertheless, I was shocked into gobsmacked disbelief when I watched the “Idol Gives Back” episode of “American Idol” (which aired in New Zealand last night).

Much of it was, as I would have expected, over-the-top attempts to make the viewer get all teary and give money. Schmaltzy, cheesy, hard sell—I expected it all. But when the Idols got together for a group song at the end of the show and sang a Christian hymn, my jaw dropped (and there’s not much about America that can make that happen anymore).

What were the “Idol” producers thinking? Were they thinking at all? The song was—to use an especially apt phrase—god-awful, but the problem was that a song about Jesus specifically was both inappropriate and offensive.

There are many non-Christians who watch Idol, yet they were ignored. And what of the Idols themselves being forced to sing a Jesus hymn? What could be the justification for possibly forcing non-believers to expose themselves?

This was a show about giving money to charity, which is not an exclusively Christian or even religious idea. Why did the Idol producers decide to make it Christian by using an inappropriate hymn to Jesus?

My hostility is not toward Christians or Christianity, but to the assumption that everyone is Christian, however weakly, and so no one would be offended by an irrelevant Jesus hymn being sung by the Idols. This is part of the growing trend in America where Christianity is both assumed and promoted over all other beliefs and non-belief.

I’ve written recently about christianists’ attempts to turn the US Army into a specifically “Christian” army. I’ve also written many times about christianist attempts to force their religion and beliefs onto all Americans. Unless people stand up to oppose this—especially rational Christians—the far right will succeed in turning America into a theocracy.

Freedom of religion means nothing without freedom from religion, and religious oppression is always wrong, including when it’s Christians doing it. From what I’ve read, I’m pretty sure their Jesus wouldn’t be too happy with the antics of some of his followers, whether they watch “American Idol” or not.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

McCain’s ‘direct falsification’

John McCain is all a-flutter. Those mean ol’ Democrats are picking on him! When they pointed out—correctly—that he said US troops could be in Iraq for “maybe 100” years, they’re engaging in “direct falsification”. Clearly, he was the one directly falsifying.

At a fundraiser last January, McCain was asked about Bush’s statement that US troops would be in Iraq for 50 years. “"Maybe 100,” he replied. “As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that'd be fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaida is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day."

I reproduced the entire quote because he now says he was talking only about peacekeeping. But this same man continually says, as he just did, “After we win the war in Iraq, and we are succeeding…” Apparently, McCain has a well-developed sense of irony, calling the situation in Iraq a “success”.

But, you know, it must be hard for him, having to defend the failed policies of the Bush-Cheney regime, the same policies that he championed and still supports. So, if poor ol’ John wants to split hairs about why, specifically, Americans will be dying in Iraq for another century, maybe we should cut him a little slack.

In fact, let’s go farther, and put McCain’s long White House campaign to bed once and for all. We can see the Bush-Cheney regime for the total failure that it is, and we don’t want another four years of the same thing. So whether John McSame wants to continue the Bush-Cheney war for 100 years or merely Bush-Cheney’s armed occupation of Iraq, either way he’s proposing more of the same failures of the Bush-Cheney regime, and one day longer is one day too many.

Friday, May 02, 2008

AmeriNZ 86 – Arthur Returns

Episode 86 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

I’m finally back, and I start out telling you why this was so delayed. It’s actually a meander through my life recently. I’m going to be more relaxed about my podcasting schedule.

A listener email then lets me compare petrol prices in Australia, the US and New Zealand. Some of you don’t know how lucky you are. Then it’s on to comments, and especially some voice messages that piled up.

I’m planning on doing an episode soon specifically about moving to New Zealand. If there are things you’d like to know, or like others to know, just send me an email or ring the listener line.

Leave a comment. Or, you can ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413. Email me (won’t be read on the podcast) at arthur{at)amerinz.com. You can also still use my other address, amerinz[at) yahoo.com.

Running time: 29:29 (27.1 MB)

Links for this episode

AmeriNZ #55 - Being an expat

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Accidental discovery of the past

This won’t come as a huge surprise to clever people, but it’s now possible to post to a Blogger blog in the past.

Earlier today I was using the newly added post-date feature in Blogger (where you can set posts to be published at a future time; others have had this for a long time, but I digress). Due to some Internet bugginess, I thought it didn’t understand what “13:10” meant, so I changed it to “1:10”, and voila! the post appeared on my blog—dated 1:10am last night, when I was actually sound asleep.

I played with the feature in beta form and thought it would be useful (I often write several posts at once, and this feature will allow me to have them automatically appear on my blog at various times, rather than all at once. But now I know I can sort of re-write the past, too. I hope they don’t change that, because imagine how useful it will be to be able to extend birthday greetings or whatever when you’ve forgotten the event until it’s passed.

But, for future reference, something won’t be dated in the wee small hours unless it was actually posted at that time. That, or I messed up the post time again (the 24-hour clock just confuses me). This one, however, was posted immediately.

Slice of (my) life

These are too small to warrant blog posts of their own, but they’re little bits and pieces of my life. And New Zealand. Sort of.

TV newsreader reads reality

Last night I caught a bit of TV3’s Nightline news programme. The newsreader was talking about Madonna’s concert that was streamed over the Internet to a number of countries, including New Zealand. The video image showed a close-up of the screen with that spinning wagon wheel icon and the word “Buffering” underneath. The newsreader pointed out that was a common sight, due to New Zealand’s slow Internet connection speeds. It’s so refreshing when a newsreader doesn’t ignore a reality. Maybe if more reporters keep harping on about out slow speeds something will finally be done about it.

Brush with fame

Yesterday as I was heading into the office, I saw three guys heading toward me, one of them carrying a guitar case. As I got closer, I recognised one as a newspaper photographer, then I saw the blonde guy and thought, “he looks familiar…” I then realised he was Brian McFadden.

My downunder readers will probably know who I’m talking about, but many Americans may not. He used to be part of mega-successful Irish boy band Westlife until he left to launch a solo career. Now, he lives in Australia with his fiancé, Australian pop singer Delta Goodrum. He was in New Zealand to promote his new album, which is being released in this part of the world first.

He’d just done a lunchtime performance in the company cafeteria (someone had won a radio competition), and he was being photographed for the paper. Up close and in person, he looks more boyish than his 28 years would suggest, and he’s tall (so many celebrities turn out to be small in real life).

So, for many people he’s not a celebrity or famous, and to many people he is. I knew him through Westlife, their songs and videos, and I bought his debut solo single (“Real To Me”, one of the last CD singles I bought, pre-iTunes). So to me, he’s a celebrity, and though I was close enough to kiss him (figuratively speaking), I didn’t say a word. Why is it we’re never prepared when we meet someone well-known?

New Zealand Music Month

May is New Zealand Music Month, and it’s really a subject I ought to talk about more. Only trouble is that for some reason it always sneaks up on me, catching me unprepared. So for now, at least, I’ll direct you to the official website, and promise to do better…eventually.

Mission Accomplished + 5

It’s now been five years since George Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”. He said, “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.”

Except of course, they hadn’t, they didn’t and they still haven’t. The Bush-Cheney regime launched a war they’d planned since before 9/11, and did so with no plan for what to do afterward. They still have no plan—apart from wasting more and more. What are they throwing away? Billions more in taxpayer dollars and countless more young American lives—and innocent Iraqi lives, too, of course.

This won’t end, and probably can’t end, while Republicans have control. The only way to end it will be vote the Democrats into Congress and the White House. Then the mission really will be accomplished.

The White House photo at the top of this post carried the following caption: "President George W. Bush addresses sailors and the nation from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln of the coast of San Diego, California May 1, 2003. White House photo by Paul Morse." Is it just plain mean to ask, how can a ship be "of" a coast?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Spirits in the buy

A South Island unit of New Zealand’s second-largest supermarket chain has applied to be allowed to sell spirits in their store. Currently, supermarkets are only allowed to sell beer and wine.

The NZ Police has opposed the move, saying that the buying power of supermarket chains will allow them to sell sweet ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs, also known as “alcopops”) at very low prices. The Police, joined by some social workers, say that it will make the problem of teenage binge drinking worse (the drinking age in New Zealand is 18).

The store plans on selling the spirits in a separate enclosed space, like a store within a store (I saw the same general concept used at a grocery story in Evanston, Illinois, but for all alcohol). New Zealand’s largest grocery chain already has liquor stores (called “bottle shops” in New Zealand) as stand-alone stores alongside their supermarkets.

While I sympathise with police who have to deal with the consequences of teenage binge drinking, I’m not sure that punishing everyone for the actions of some irresponsible people is the correct approach. In my homeland, spirits were sold in grocery stores, which made it convenient for shoppers who didn’t have to make additional stops. This didn’t make the problem worse than it is in New Zealand.

The drinking age in New Zealand may be too low, but the real problem is that underage teenagers are getting alcohol, and there seems to be little consequence for people delivering it to them. Very often it’s parents who are providing the alcohol to their underage children and their underage friends, but there’s little will to prosecute them. There’s also little effort to stigmatise inappropriate use of alcohol, even when some drunk kid kills himself and/or his friends driving drunk. None of that will be helped by making it hard for responsible people to buy spirits.

Government and laws have a role to play in structuring society, but it seems to me that the prime responsibility lies with the individual. Teenage binge drinking—like binge drinking in general—is a real problem, but this isn’t a case where prohibition will fix it, no matter how much wowsers might wish it would.