Monday, November 30, 2009

Posting the evidence

This is the final blog post for November, 2009. Big deal, I know, but between being so busy and also under-the-weather, this month had among the lowest number of posts since I started the blog.

In general, I average slightly better than one post per day; that doesn’t mean I actually do a post a day—some days I do several, and several days I do none at all. But the average over a year is about one a day. My lowest number of posts in a full-month was December 2007 (when I was overseas for part of the month); the partial month in which I began this blog, September 2006, was similarly low.

None of which matters at all. While it provides evidence of my barriers to blogging this month, the dearth of posts is completely irrelevant to, well, anything. But here’s a little secret: When I first began this blog, I wondered what it would be like to be a daily columnist, so in order to find out the only way I could, I tried to post every day. I got over that curiosity long ago, but it was the original reason I posted every day. So the current question is why I still blog, and that’s a question I can’t answer except with, I still have things to say. Usually that’s enough; just not once-per-day this month, apparently.

Old dog, old tricks

Don Brash apparently learned nothing from his defeat in the 2005 election, a failure that saw him dumped as National Party Leader. He’d moved the party so far to the right, it co-opted the policies of the neo-conservative ACT Party; the voters didn’t buy it.

Now head of a “productivity” task force, Brash has said the only way to “catch up” with Australian “wealth” is to slash $9 billion from government spending. And how would he do that? By repeating the failed policies of Reagan/Thatcher/Douglas/Richardson, of course.

Here’s the destruction they would wreak:

Reduce benefit numbers with "ambitious" welfare reform (presumably including kicking people off the dole, whether they have any way of surviving or not);

Reduce the minimum wage (which would hurt low-skill workers, including those now on welfare) and reintroduce a lower minimum youth wage (to exploit youth). The minimum wage “should be reduced to the same ratio to average wages that prevailed in 1999”. So, they want to get the poor off welfare and cut their wages so they’re far worse off.

Extend probationary employment periods to a year for all workers. This extends the controversial 90-day probationary period National enacted. Basically, this would allow an unscrupulous business owner to hire workers then sack them within a year without much in the way of recourse for the workers (my home state had this as part of its union-busting laws, but there was no time limit).

Raise the age of superannuation eligibility (because they don’t want the elderly loafing when they could still be wage slaves) and slow the increases in the amount the elderly get;

Scrap the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and use the money to pay off debt (because Brash and the business elite believe elderly baby boomers can jolly well look after themselves, even though their pensions will be reduced year after year);

End Kiwisaver subsidies (because even though New Zealanders have among the lowest household savings rates in the developed world, Brash and his fellow troglodytes believe that government should never—ever—do anything to help encourage people to do something that’s good for the country);

Cut universal subsidies for health and education (because the American model of privately funded healthcare works so well, why not do that and add privately funded education, too?). They’d end subsidised prescriptions so that those “generally in good health and not on low incomes” pay the full price, and they’d end universal subsidies for doctors’ visits (they appear to want New Zealanders to be sicker);

In addition to privatising education, they ‘d charge full market interest rates on student loans (without an interest-free period) and end all caps on university fees.

They’d allow mining on or under sensitive government-owned land, just as long as it met some sort of cost-benefit analysis (environmental and cultural issues are clearly irrelevant), but that mining can only be done by private companies. In fact, all government-owned enterprises would be sold off “where competition is actual or feasible” (emphasis added; in other words, always).

It’s not just ordinary New Zealanders they want to screw over: They want to privatise Fonterra, which is a cooperative owned by New Zealand Dairy Farmers; this would inevitably transfer the ownership of New Zealand’s dairy industry to foreign ownership and encourage American-style corporate farming.

And what do they want to do with the $9 billion they’d shave off government spending? Why, cut taxes for the rich and corporate elites, of course! They want a maximum top tax rate for personal income taxes and corporate and trust taxes of 20 percent, and a dramatically flatter tax rate overall.

What all of this means is simple: When they say they want to increase the wealth of New Zealanders relative to Australians, they mean they want to increase the wealth of those who are already rich, as well as the wealth and power of the business elites. Ordinary New Zealanders—who would suffer greatly under these proposals—don’t matter to Brash and the business elites behind this “report”.

Brash is held up by the right as some sort of demi-god, as if he has wisdom handed down from the gods. Brash is really just another hard-right ideologue whose antique ideas were long ago discredited worldwide and repeatedly rejected by New Zealand voters—and will be again (and if you doubt that, consider that ACT is barely in Parliament at all now and, on current polling, faces possible annihilation in the next general election).

Perhaps the best example of how irrelevant the extremist views of Brash and the elites are, even Prime Minister John Key has rejected adoption of what he called “absolutely radical big bang reform”. He acknowledged that "It would certainly have a dramatic effect on New Zealanders and in the short term it would feel very much like we were pulling the rug out from underneath them." Precisely.

The task force was established as part of National’s agreement with the ACT Party, which espouses a neo-conservative economic agenda. The Opposition asks, as it should, if this is all a “straw man” move, so the National-led government can implement most of the policies but stop short of the whole thing. Certainly Finance Minister Bill English did nothing to dispel that notion when he said, "The Government intends to pick its way through the report to see what recommendations it could implement." Could, not should—implying, certainly, a desire to implement the whole thing, but perhaps avaluating what it thinks it can get away with.

Still, Key promised New Zealanders that there would be no asset sales in a first term, and he keeps dismissing any radical changes. New Zealand voters will hold him to those promises, or else this National-led government may find it only gets the one term. After all, despite what radical extremists like Brash and his buddies among the business elites want, New Zealand is still a democracy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

This is some of that change

It’s almost impossible to convey how huge this development is, and how important: The Obama Administration doesn't want federally-registered lobbyists appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions.

While the president doesn’t make such appointments (the agencies themselves do), they’re incredibly important in providing advice on public policy. If lobbyists are on the boards and commissions, they can help shape that advice—and so, public policy—to the advantage of their clients, all without any democratically-elected oversight. Barring them will mean that public policy may start to reflect the desires of the elected government, and not the business elites.

The president has been moving to both open up government and shut-out the influence peddlers. He issued Executive Order 13490, which bars any Presidential appointees who have been federally-registered lobbyists within the past two years from working on particular matters or in the specific areas in which they lobbied or from serving in agencies they had lobbied.

That Executive Order doesn’t apply to the agency boards and commissions, but this move is designed to ensure that the spirit of it does. The Washington Post said this “may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama”, and they’re probably right, as hundreds or even thousands of lobbyists are booted off these advisory bodies.

President Obama has said that he wants to change the way business is done in Washington, and this is an example of delivering on that promise. This, then, is some that change we can believe in.

And these people vote…

If ever there was a video to motivate rational people to vote, this would be it. The ignorance and the prejudice displayed by these fans of Sarah Palin is bad enough, but to be so ignorant and proud of it is something else again. It’s enough to make one fear for the future of American democracy.

Tip o’ the hat to Mark from Slap Upside the Head for pointing me to the vid.

An abhorrent law is gone

Thursday night, Parliament acted correctly and repealed the use of provocation as a partial defence for murder. The repeal was passed 116-5—only the Neo-Troglodyte ACT Party voted against it.

Predictably, lawyers were condescending in their dismissals, with one calling the repeal “political grandstanding” and another calling it a “knee-jerk reaction”. Of course lawyers opposed the repeal: They want whatever tools they can use. That doesn’t make them correct.

One lawyer said he believed that juries were capable of making informed decisions, which is absolute rubbish. The whole point of the partial defence of provocation is to trash the reputation of the murder victim so as to make the defendant seem justified in taking a life. Far too many times, defence lawyers played on the anti-gay prejudices of juries to get their client off a murder charge. There’s no justice for the murder victim in that.

The argument against repeal has been mainly around the idea that there are some cases in which someone may understandably lose control (for example, as one lawyer put it, finding someone in the act of molesting your child), But it seems to me that those rare occasions can be better dealt with in other ways, like arguing self-defence, rather than by allowing a murderer to trash his victim’s reputation or play upon the anti-gay prejudices of jurors.

The ACT Party, echoing the Law Society’s stand, argued that the defence shouldn’t be repealed until there was a replacement defence (such as diminished capacity). However, the party’s spokesperson, David Garrett, went beyond that and argued, “contrary to recent claims—victim's sexual orientation is irrelevant. It is not—and never has been—a 'gay panic' defence”. Garrett is either stupid, wilfully ignoring history or he’s being purely partisan—most likely, all three. Garrett has a reputation as a homophobe, so one suspects his position reflects his personal prejudices and not any principled stance. (This is actually the second time I’ve mentioned this moron by name, and the first time was just as scathing.)

Conservatives constantly argue that modern criminal law is weighted completely in favour of the defendant, not the victim. That’s nonsense, but in this one case, it definitely was. Now, it isn’t. That should be considered progress.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pseudo Santa

Today I need to take a look at the most important issue I’ve discussed this week: Auckland’s Santa.

I was in the Auckland CBD today, and I had to take a look at the recently refurbished Santa at the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets (photo above). He was the recipient of a $200,000 make-over, which he was probably due for: He’s 49 years old. He made his debut on the old Farmer’s Department Store in Hobson Street (now a Heritage Hotel, in the photo at the bottom of this post) in 1960. This year for the first time he was joined by 14.5 metre high replicas of the reindeer that joined him a half century ago.

Old Santa was very different. The index finger on his right hand moved, beckoning shoppers into the store. His right eye also winked. By last year, the finger and the eye were a bit wonky and the whole effect was kind of creepy. In fact, many people (me included) called him “Paedophile Santa”. Yep, he was really that creepy. And yet, that was part of his “charm”, for lack of a better word.

New Santa is so different that I call him “Pseudo Santa”: The finger no longer beckons, the eye no longer winks. Sure, the new Santa is far cheerier than the old one—the colours are brighter, the face is friendlier and he’s decidedly not creepy. But he’s also not the old Santa.

Things are as they are, and so is Santa. We will adapt. Just don’t try to convince me it’s the same Santa.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Will ENDA discriminate?

If there really was such a thing as The Gay Agenda™, then the top item on it would be passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). If passed into law and signed by the president (who has pledged to sign it), ENDA would ban discrimination against GLB and T people in employment. Naturally, there are exceptions—neither state nor federal governments can get away with making GLBT people fully equal citizens.

GLBT Americans have gotten used to having an asterisk attached to their rights. But now there are indications that the very bill designed to end discrimination against gay and lesbian people may, in fact, ensrhine it.

According to The Advocate online, lawyers are now going over the language of ENDA to make it acceptable to Republicans and business elites (as if they’d ever support it, anyway). Specifically, they’re looking at three areas:

1. Disparate Impact: This is a type of case filed against an employer who doesn’t appear to have specifically discriminatory policies, but which nevertheless discriminates. Lawyers want to deny GLBT people the right to file such a case. By contrast, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act allows such cases to be brought in the event of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion or national origin.

2. Attorney’s Fees: The move is to forbid GLBT people from collecting attorney’s fees as part of the settlement in a successful case by restricting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from awarding it; discrimination victims under Title VII face no such restriction.

3. Ban double recovery. The lawyers want to make sure that discrimination victims cannot sue under both Title VII and ENDA (as could be the case, for example, with gender discrimination) because filing two claims could lead to two judgements (double recovery). Of the three, this is the only one that seems like it may be reasonable.

If people who are the victims of discrimination based on their race, colour, gender, religion or national origin are able to file a claim of disparate impact, how can preventing GLBT people from doing so be justified? Where is the justice in that?

Denying attorney’s fees is an especially bad move: Poor and working people often rely on that to be able to bring their cases. If the fees have to be paid out of their award, they’re likely to get little or nothing in the end (contrary to rightwing myth, such judgements are generally not very big). That means that potentially only the wealthy will be able to bring cases.

Added up, at least two out of three of these seem like efforts to prevent GLBT people from actually bringing successful suits. It’s like the politicians are saying to GLBT people, with a wink and nod to the corporate elites, “we’ll ban discrimination, but good luck actually enforcing that.”

If Barney Frank allows that to happen, we should expel him from the gay community. That, and force him to return his copy of the The Gay Agenda™.

When worlds collide

Every once in awhile, online worlds that are completely separate merge together in unexpected ways, and yesterday was that sort of day.

The day before, I’d finished posting about the Missouri billboard, and I fired off an email to Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God. blogging fame to send him the link to the story and to my post. He wrote back and thanked me and said he’d be mentioning it and giving me a credit. I expected a hat-tip and was thrilled.

I was shocked when I went to his site yesterday and found his post had an excerpt from my post. Talk about a major w00t! The comments were interesting, and aside from one self-described libertarian who called me treasonous (for suggesting the language of the billboard was treasonous), they were generally positive.

Joe.My.God. is my one never-miss sites on the web, a daily read. He posts all sorts of stuff about gay and political news, as well as pop culture items. Many times I post about things I find there, or repost videos, but other times I’ve followed his links to go even deeper into a story. Sometimes I post about what I find (like here), other times I don’t. The stories and links, Joe’s comments (often complete with a dry humour that really appeals to me), along with his own stories, are what keep me coming back.

The photo accompanying this post is of Joe (at right) with one of my favourite people, Tim Corrimal, when they met at Gay Pride in New York City this past June (Tim lent me the photo; I wasn’t there). So, thinking about unexpected connections, and for a bit of irrelevant fun, here’s a little six-degrees-of-separation I did:

Joe met Tim Corrimal. Tim met Ramble Redhead (one degree). Ramble met me (two degrees). I met George HW Bush (three degrees). Bush the First was GW Bush’s father (four degrees). GW Bush’s vice president was Dick Cheney (five degrees). Dick Cheney’s chief of staff was Scooter Libby (six degrees). Therefore, Joe is separated from Scooter Libby by six degrees of separation.

Sometimes, personal blogging should just be fun. This week, it was.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is treason the new conservatism?

The billboard above was placed next to I-70 in Lafayette County, Missouri (part of the Kansas City metropolitan region). It’s an example of the increasingly aggressive and violent rhetoric of America’s far right—which includes far too many people within the Republican Party.

The billboard reads: “A citizens [sic] guide to REVOLUTION of a corrupt government.” Shouldn’t that be against? Anyway, it goes on, “ 1. Starve the beast, keep your money.” The irony of the billboard standing next to Interstate 70—built and maintained with tax money—is just too wonderful not to point out. “2. Vote out incumbents.” All incumbents, or just Democrats? “3. If steps 1 & 2 fail?” The kicker: “PREPARE FOR WAR – LIVE FREE OR DIE”.

This billboard is, at the very least, seditious: “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state” (refusing to pay taxes and armed revolt). However, a simple, easy-to-understand definition of treason is advocating the violent overthrow of the government, which this billboard also does.

The billboard may have been placed by “a businessman” who earlier placed an anti-Obama message on the same billboard (why is it that folks advocating treason are so often afraid to reveal themselves?), but it was endorsed by the Lafayette County Republican Party. Their blog site was filled with outraged comments, but also from plenty of other folks who endorsed it, along with some from the seriously unhinged far, far right.

This billboard is just the latest example of the growing aggression among the far right. They portray the government as “corrupt” because they lost the last democratic elections and they can’t stand that. And, if we’re honest, the thing they hate most about the US government is that the president is an African American.

Some on the far right are openly calling for the president’s death through what they call “imprecatory prayer”. Basically, those are Judeo-Christian curses in which they pray that their god wreaks vengeance against someone—in this case, that it strikes down the president.

The rightwingers are using Psalm 109:8 which begins, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office” and goes on “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” The language is so violent that neither the Roman Catholics nor mainstream Protestants use it in their liturgies.

There are two problems with all this rhetoric, beyond the sedition and violence they espouse. First, and most obviously, they will encourage the legendary “lone wolves” to commit acts of actual, real violence (there’s really no such thing as a “lone wolf” actually, because the violent right is interconnected through the Internet, even if individuals act alone).

The second thing wrong with this is that the supposed “mainstream” of the Republican Party doesn’t condemn this utterly and without equivocation. They demand that liberals apologise for every loony thing that some leftist ever said, but they flat-out refuse to disavow the increasingly violent rhetoric of the right wing—folks who in most cases are members or voters of their party.

The rhetoric of the far right is increasingly becoming a clear and present danger. The Republican Party has a duty to disavow it in the strongest possible terms now, and not feign remorse after something terrible happens because of that rhetoric.

Update 7:25PM (Auckland Time): I just checked and found that the Lafayette County Republicans have removed their blog post promoting the billboard and its message. They should've disavowed it and apologised instead of just pretending they never promoted it. Still, I thought they might do this, so at left is a screen cap of the post (click to embiggen).

Hat Tip for the sign story to StopBeck, even though the linked post is now gone.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

March for stupidity

I’m getting sick of repeating myself on this subject, but I really need to: Today’s so-called “March for Democracy” was stupid and self-serving, as we all know, but it was also deceptive and designed simply to advance an extremist political agenda.

Since the rightwing christianist extremists behind all this can’t be bothered with facts, truth or accuracy, let’s review what they don’t want anyone to know:

87.4% of New Zealand voters DID NOT vote the way the extremists say.

Instead, 87.4% of New Zealand voters who voted cast a ballot the way the extremists wanted. However, what the activists don’t want you to know is that the voter turnout was only 56.09% of eligible voters. That means that contrary to their constant deceptive propaganda, fewer than 48.98% of all eligible votes actually voted the way the activists claim. That’s nowhere near the 87.4% figure they always claim—in fact, that’s not even a majority.

We can’t know anything about the intentions of the people who didn’t vote, but there’s no reason to assume that they would’ve voted the way the christianist extremists wanted. Large numbers of people declared they wouldn’t vote at all because they had contempt for the referendum.

Part of the reason for that contempt—including by leading politicians—is that the extremists deliberately worded the referendum in such a confusing way that it would get exactly the result it did. So, we can assume that many people who voted "no" do not, in fact, support the extremists’ views.

The referendum has nothing to do with John Key or the National Party.

The marchers reportedly chanted “John Key, listen to me”. That was on many of pre-printed signs. Among the possibly un-authorised signs was one that read, “JFK, John Fuhrer Key” (for the record, Key’s middle name is Phillip).

The activists have the right to ask Key to back their position: He’s the prime minister, after all. But their propaganda for their march implied that the votes for Key and the National Party were identical to the supporters of the referendum. That’s utter nonsense.

As I’ve said before, we have no idea how many of people who voted for the National Party (and John Key) also voted in favour of smacking, so it’s completely illogical to assume any correlation. New Zealanders have a history of voting out governments every few years, and nothing can be assumed by the fact they do— it certainly says nothing about their ideology.

The law is working exactly as intended.

After the referendum, the government ordered a review of the law to see if it’s being enforced as Parliament intended. Guess what? It is. Despite all the lies and distortions coming from the christianist extremists, the law is working.

So, what’s really going on here?

The christianist extremists are using this issue to recruit supporters and, more importantly, donations from among their core constituency. That’s their primary objective. But secondarily, they’re attempting to build a far-right christianist political movement to enter electoral politics. No christianist party has entered Parliament since MMP parliaments began in 1996, and none will: New Zealanders are too secular, too rational and too centrist for that.

However, if the christianist extremists can hide their true motives and their true agenda, they think they can peel off enough of the National Party’s rightwing supporters to get into Parliament. If that happens, they'll believe, they can eventually take over the whole government; it has happened elsewhere before.

It is this danger, this threat to democracy, that compels me to expose their lies and deception. Democracy gives them the right to believe whatever they want, and to express those views in all lawful ways. It does not, however, give them the right to dictate that the majority of New Zealanders do their bidding. This post is also an example of democracy in action. The fact that democracy has been proven to work is the real lesson in this sorry saga.

Footnote: At between 4,000 and 5,000 attendees, "Auckland businessman" Colin Craig, who paid for this charade, spent around $100 for every person who showed up. They claimed they'd have the largest demonstration in New Zealand history, but they weren't even remotely close to that: The largest-ever rally was attended by 50-70,000 people in 1938. Even the far right fundamentalist church that organised a 2005 march up Queen Street to oppose the Civil Unions Act had more than twice as many people.

Climbing to recovery

Recovery is advancing, slowly, and it’s time to try and resume normal blogging. So, let the fun begin…

The photo with this post has nothing to do with anything, of course; I just like to post photos of Jake—although, tangentially, he’s showing about as much energy as I’ve been able to muster this week. But, isn't his little white chin-fur cute?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Singin' in the wires

This video does a pretty good job of explaining how Auto-Tune took over American pop music. I saw this over at Joe.My.God., which was timely: This past weekend I had a look at the Top 10 on Billboard’s charts and seven of them definitely used Auto-Tune, and I think at least one more did, too (it’s hard to tell from a 30-second snippet). The point is, can’t pop singers actually, you know, sing any more?

Side note: I've seen this in several different places, so I can't remember where I saw it first. But I'll credit Joe.My.God. anyway because it's one of my favourite sites.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Names will never hurt me

One thing is clear in America’s fight over same-sex marriage: The activists on both sides describe those on the other as “bigots”. Are they both? Or are GLBT people being held to a completely different standard than heterosexuals?

I recently read a post at Loren Olson’s Magnetic Fire site that got me to thinking about all this. Dr. Olson was commenting on a Boston Globe OpEd column, “Wedded to vitriol, backers of gay marriage stumble” by right-wing columnist Jeff Jacoby. Said Dr. Olson:

“Whether or not opponents of gay marriage are bigots, calling them bigots will be counter-productive. While it is impossible to argue with ideologies, name-calling simply reinforces the polarization. Attitudes will change as people begin to understand the true nature of our relationships, and that we wish to support, not undermine, the institution of marriage.”

I agree with the general thrust of that, but left a lengthy comment in which I also argued that the leaders of the anti-gay marriage movement are bigots (you can check out that and a further excellent point made by Dr. Olson on his site). I also pointed out the difficulty in exposing the bigotry of anti-gay activists without seeming to brand ordinary folks who voted against us the same way when they’re far more likely to be, as Dr. Olson put it, “homo-na├»ve”—they don’t know us or our lives (which is precisely why the right is so successful in defining us—ordinary people don’t know us, so they believe the nonsense the right spews).

However, I believe our side is being held to an entirely different standard than the right, and that can be seen in the Globe column that began this discussion. Jeff Jacoby is an opponent of gay marriage because, he said:

“I think it would be reckless to jettison the understanding, as old as civilization itself, that society has a deep interest in promoting families anchored by a married man and woman. It seems to me nonsensical to claim that men and women are utterly interchangeable, or to deny that children are likeliest to thrive when they are raised by both a mother and a father. I believe that timeless moral standards must not be casually overturned and that doing so is apt to have unintended and unfortunate consequences. And I am sure that legalizing same-sex wedlock would fuel demands for further radical change—legalizing plural marriage, for example.”

Jacoby‘s argument is specious, not historically accurate and filled with the kind of scare-mongering that the most bigoted of the bigoted would endorse. Is he a bigot or, to use his own words, “mistaken, not evil”?

Here’s the problem: Jacoby is demanding that our side “respect” his side and the primacy of their particular religious views, and he claims he sympathizes “with committed gay and lesbian couples who feel demeaned by the law’s rejection of same-sex marriage or who crave the proof of societal acceptance, the cloak of normalcy, that a marriage license would provide.” This shows that he has absolutely no understanding of what this issue is for us, so his demand that we “see marriage traditionalists in the same light” (of understanding, apparently) is just plain silly.

We don’t feel “demeaned” because of the lack of legal recognition of our relationships, we’re furious at being treated as second-class citizens (or worse). We have to pay higher taxes than heterosexual married couples, but we don’t get the government protection they do. While we have no spousal rights, such as with death or illness of a partner, in most states a heterosexual couple who’s known each other for one minute can get married and instantly get more legal protections than a same-sex couple that’s been together 50 years. “Demeaned”? Hardly.

Gay marriage also has nothing to do with his imaginary “proof of societal acceptance” which we don’t “crave”. In fact, his choice of that word, and his declaration that we’re seeking “the cloak of normalcy” shows he’s making assumptions based solely on his conservative philosophy. Social conservatives believe that gay people are seeking approval and that we’re trying to normalise homosexuality (whatever that means). We don’t need anyone’s approval, and it doesn’t matter to us whether the rightwing thinks we’re normal or not. However, we demand that government—to whom we also pay taxes—treats us exactly the same as all other citizens, that if government gives benefits to committed partners it must give them to all such partnered relationships.

What Jacoby doesn’t understand is that for us, it’s not simply about having a disagreement with people, it’s that our opponents wish to deny us not just our citizenship, but also our very humanity. Jacoby and his friends simply cannot expect to treat us with such contempt and have us not react.

Yet in most cases it’s counterproductive to call them out as bigots. The conservative bias in the newsmedia means that we can’t make it clear that we’re only calling the activists bigots. Their side can, and does, lie, distort and slander us with reckless abandon, but if we dare to criticise them in any way, no matter how small, we’re being “intolerant” or “Nazis” or even worse.

The problem, then, is that because their side has spun the issue in their favour, we can’t call out bigots even when they deserve it.

Our side is used to verbal abuse coming from our opponents, something that started way back with schoolyard taunts. But back then we also learned something that maybe delicate flowers like Jeff Jacoby should take to heart: “Names will never hurt me”. If Jacoby and his pals aren’t bigots, then the words are meaningless and they can all have a good laugh. But maybe, just maybe, the more reasonable ones among them realise that we may just have a point after all.

Nurse Jake

I’ve been “under the weather” this week, which is why I haven’t been blogging. I’ve had a particularly nasty gout attack and, quite frankly, I haven’t been up to doing much.

Sunday night, the pain kept me awake. In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the toilet. This isn’t common for me, but not unheard of. While I was there, I heard the “thump, thump” of Jake jumping down off the bed (yes, he sleeps on the bed with us; deal with it). He walked into the bathroom (where his food and water bowls also are) walked up to me, then went and drank some water. He rarely, if ever, has a drink during the night.

I left the bathroom and headed back to bed. Jake was sitting in the hallway near the bedroom door, looking toward the bathroom. He was alert and waiting for me, as if the real reason he got up was to look after me. I went back to bed, he jumped up and stayed there all night.

Most nights he curls up against the crook behind my knees or at the foot of the bed. But last night he never went near either, staying up near my back.

One can claim it’s all coincidence, but I don’t think one needs to anthropomorphise to realise that dogs can be sensitive to a member of their pack being unwell. The truth is, no one really knows what dogs know or feel, so who can really say for sure that, in a manner of speaking, Jake wasn't being my nurse?

At the very least, I know he never bumped my foot and seemed especially affectionate. That’s enough for me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jake and friend

There’s no particular reason for this photo, which I took on Thursday. It’s Jake and his favourite toy. Everyone should have a favourite toy, I think.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No war on Christmas

It’s the time of year when American fundamentalist Christians start moaning about the “war on Christmas”, something they apparently believe is real, even though it exists only in their minds. What they mean is that the word “Christmas” isn’t used by stores, in particular.

Time was, I sort of believed as they do, namely, that saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” was silly. I’m far more relaxed about that now, which is ironic, really, because there’s no absence of the word “Christmas” in New Zealand.

The photo above is of some typical sale flyers we received one day recently. There’s no shortage of the word “Christmas” (although, personally, I’m not sure that “Chrissy” or “Xmas” count—I hate both). Signs in stores and commercials on TV also talk about “Christmas”, and some—gasp!—are openly religious. I don’t know if Americans can fully grasp what that means: Fundies have nothing to complain about here.

Seriously, the word “Christmas” is definitely not missing from New Zealand. The truth is, it’s not really missing in America, either, and there’s certainly no “war” on it. But reality has very little to do with this season.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What the Institution of Marriage Means

Dan Savage presents a pretty good explanation of why gay people aren’t “redefining marriage”: Heterosexuals have already done that.

Heartless bastard

There’s really no word or expression severe enough to adequately convey the contempt in which some politicians ought to be held. Such politicians are actually beneath contempt, which is probably why the task of finding just the right epithet is so difficult. Rhode Island’s Governor Donald Carcieri is precisely that kind of despicable politician.

Carcieri is virulently opposed to same-sex marriage, so much so that he signed up with a national anti-gay front group for the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches. He also spoke before an anti-gay hate group in another state that opposes civil unions/domestic partnerships as well as same-sex marriage. Carcieri is, of course, a Republican and strident Catholic, all of which plays into his anti-gay stance.

Today Carcieri vetoed a bill to allow gay people to make funeral arrangements for their deceased partners. Yeah, he’s that kind of homophobic, heartless bastard.

In his veto statement, Carcieri declared:
“A one year time period for any relationship is not a sufficient length of duration to establish a serious, lasting bond between two individuals to supplant the surviving individual over traditional family members relative to the sensitive personal traditions and issues regarding funeral arrangement, burial rights, and disposal of human remains. Many casual relationships last for longer than a year.”
He’s right: One year isn’t very long. One slight problem with his twisted logic: A heterosexual who knows their partner for one minute can get married to another heterosexual of the opposite gender and instantly get the benefits that Carcieri thinks gay people in a relationship shouldn’t ever have.

Carcieri also declared:
“…it is uncertain how it would be ascertained in many circumstances whether couples had been in a relationship for a year. There is no official or recognized form of domestic agreement in Rhode Island. What constitutes a domestic partnership agreement or ‘relationship contract’ is vague and ill-defined.”
Golly! Rhode Islanders must be especially dim. I guess no one in that state would ever think of getting a will, a power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a living will—no, it’s impossible—clearly impossible—to determine if two people of the same gender are in a relationship.

Finally, and most tellingly, he preached:
"Finally, this bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue. If the General Assembly believes it would like to address the issue of domestic partnership, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of the State of Rhode Island decide."
Carcieri wants a referendum because he believes that he and his extremist religious cronies can lie, cheat, defame and smear their way to victory. As it happens, the Rhode Island legislature is working on a marriage equality law, which Carcieri has, of course, sworn to veto.

So, let’s review: Donny Carcieri so hates gay people that he doesn’t even want to let gay couples have a smidgeon of dignity during the most terrible time the surviving partner will experience. Because to Donny, it’s far better to treat gay Rhode Islanders like sub-humans.

Let’s put a human face on Carcieri’s abomination: In 2008, Ron Hanby took his own life. His partner of 17 years, Mark Goldberg, tried to show officials "our wills, living wills, power of attorney and marriage certificate [from Connecticut], but, of course, "no one was willing to see these documents.” Instead, under state law that Carcieri ensured remains intact, officials had to search for real relatives (by blood or heterosexual marriage only).

The medical examiner waited a week, then advertised looking for relatives, then waited another week before finally notifying other state agencies that they had an “unclaimed body” (remember, under Rhode Island law, Goldeberg couldn’t claim the body of his partner). Finally, four weeks later, a state employee "took pity on me and my plight—reviewed our documentation and was able to get all parties concerned to release Ron's body to me," and only then could he finally claim his partner’s body.

It wasn’t over: He couldn’t get Hanby cremated—not a real relative, remember—so he had to take his partner’s body to Massachusetts to finally carry out Hanby’s wishes.

Okay, Carcieri, maybe you can explain this to me: How can you hate gay people so much that you condone that inhuman treatment? How can you claim to be a good Catholic, yet be filled with such anti-Christian attitudes? Better yet, answer just this: How can you live with yourself?

Carcieri isn’t fit to for any elective office in any civilised country. Rhode Island almost got rid of him in the 2006 election. I suppose the positive is that they’ll soon be rid of this sanctimonious, self-righteous and heartless bastard. His ignominy will live on, however.

And for those who still don’t get it, this is why marriage equality in America matters.

A tip o' the hat to Joe.My.God where I originally found the veto story.

Monday, November 09, 2009

NZ Views: Waikato

This past week was one of the busiest I’ve had in ages. It’s actually not entirely over yet, with some odds and ends to clear up before moving into this week. All of which is why I haven’t blogged much lately. So as I take care of those last things from last week, I thought I’d just share some more of my views of New Zealand.

Yesterday we went down to the Waikato for a family get-together, a birthday BBQ. We were outside of Hamilton, near a settlement called Gordonton, an area Nigel and I have always thought was quite nice: It’s rural, but close to Hamilton and only about an hour and a half to Auckland. We also have family there or not very far from there.

The Waikato is a large region, which is primarily faming country (especially dairy and sheep farms), but it’s more varied than that. The area we were has farms, but also “lifestyle blocks”, large bits of land on which “executive style” houses are built. Often these houses are in small clusters, like a suburban subdivision, but on sections that typically range up to five acres.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the middle of a continent, but I tend to be drawn to wide-open views over land rather than sea views, much as I like them, too. But one of the things I like most about New Zealand is the visual diversity: There are mountain views, places near dense bush or forests, overlooking wide-open plains or rolling farmland as well as, of course, plenty of sea views (and lake and river views for that matter). You want it? We got it.

I’m trying to post more photos of the places I visit, and I actually have more from another part of Auckland, when I get the chance to post them. These will have to do for now.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I don’t have time for this

I don’t have time for this. This is the busiest week of the month for me, and I have a lot of work to do, so I don’t have time for a blog post. But that’s not what I’m talking about: I just don’t have time for the bullshit anymore. Tonight Maine repealed marriage equality.

This came about because our opponents ran a campaign filled with lies and distortions made possible by millions of dollars in out-of-state contributions. This came about because of out-of-state agitators organised by a prominent national organisation quietly backed by the Mormons.

The people fighting for our side were brilliant: They ran a strong grassroots campaign involving thousands of ordinary Maine folks who made phone calls, went door-to-door and did all they could to keep equality in Maine. However, they had one major handicap: They were in the reality-based world where facts and reason matter, something our opponents know little about, but, apparently, didn’t need to.

Our opponents played on people’s fears, as they always do. They played on people’s ignorance, as they always do. They played on people’s prejudice and hatred, as they always do. And for good measure they just made stuff up, as they always do. Our side couldn’t match the millions of dollars the right’s churches collected to promote the lies and hatred, so it was always an uphill fight.

It’s time to make one thing abundantly clear: Our opponents don’t have a minor disagreement with us—they hate us. It’s not the word “marriage” they have a problem with—it’s that we have any rights whatsoever.

In California, they claimed their problem was with “activist judges” (a term they only use when they disagree with a ruling). If “the people” don’t enact it, it’s not legitimate, they said. Then when Maine’s elected legislature enacted marriage equality, and its elected Governor signed it into law, the religious extremists tripped all over themselves to repeal the law the people’s representatives had enacted. Apparently, by “the people” the religious extremists meant only themselves.

In doing so, the religious extremists glossed over the gross immorality of the majority ever being allowed to vote on the rights of the minority, as if it’s ever proper for voters to decide who has full equality and who does not.

Maine’s governor—who formerly opposed same-sex marriage—was a strong advocate. So were many other prominent Mainers. But the national Democratic Party, including President Obama, were absent. The president issued a mild, vague statement but never said, “vote NO”.

The mainstream news media failed miserably. They treated it as an interesting, possibly significant, curiosity. They never once called out the religious bigots on their lies; maybe they’re too frightened of them.

Still, despite all that, we'll win because we’re on the right side of history. Those who oppose us will be remembered like the famous bigots of the near past—Thurmond, Wallace, and so on—and that day is fast approaching.

So, I refuse to give up on America. Despite all the hate, despite all the money and power being deployed against us, despite the evil being done in the name of their god, I know we will win. I have that hope because America gave it to me as a birthright. I have that hope because generations of Americans have fought and died to nurture it. I have that hope because at this moment, all across America, millions of people are hanging their heads in sadness or shame over how GLBT people are being treated—again. I have hope because, as the president once said, “In the unlikely story that is America, there is nothing false about hope.”

An activist friend suggested the song in the video at the top of this post as an antidote for those filled with sadness from this defeat. I love how very gay it is to take courage from a song by Liza—Judy’s daughter—but I also love the sentiment.

This isn’t the end: It’s just the beginning. We will win—if not tomorrow, then the day after that.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Today is Fourteenth Anniversaries, plural: I arrived in New Zealand to stay on this day in 1995, which makes it my “Expataversary”, or the anniversary of the day I became an expat. That means it’s also the date Nigel and I have always taken to be our anniversary, since this was the day our life together really began.

So much has changed over those years, not the least the fact we now have another Anniversary: January 24, the day we held our Civil Union. We were talking the other day about what we would answer when people ask how long we’ve been married. We decided the long explanation is best: We’ve been together fourteen years, and made it “legal” in January. This lets people know both the long-term nature of us, and also that we’re legally joined, too.

In the past, I’ve talked about how people ask me if I’d ever live in the US again and, truth be told, I’ve always ducked the question because I’ve never known how to answer it. However, I realised recently that the chances I’d ever live there again are slim to none.

The America I left in 1995 no longer exists, it’s changed so much. Whether those changes are good, bad or indifferent is beside the point—it’s the scale of change that matters. Every year I live away from the US, the more like a foreign country it becomes. Every week I see a reference in American news media or among my Internet friends to something currently in American pop culture—and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

If this sounds implausible, then consider that when I left the US the Internet (as we know it today) was still in its infancy: Connections were slow and expensive and the World Wide Web was barely beginning. Cellphones existed, but were expensive and only beginning to catch on (and they were analogue—no WiFi, no texting, no downloading anything to your phone).

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, I couldn’t possibly have known that over time I’d begin to feel like a foreigner in my own homeland, but that’s what happened. But I also couldn’t have imagined that a day would come in which I’d feel completely at home in a country other than the US, and that happened, too.

I think the difference for me is that I love adventure—not the trekking across the Antarctic kind, but the perfectly ordinary “let’s see where this goes” kind. As Nigel and I have built our life together, we’ve moved around and tried new places and jobs, but we’ve always moved to something, not from anything.

And that was true for me, too, fourteen years ago today. I think that sense of adventure is the secret to why this experience has been so amazingly wonderful for me. The fact that Nigel and I share a sense of adventure is probably one of the secrets to why our life together has been so amazing.

So, on this fourteenth anniversary, I’m living in a place I love, having a wonderful life, and sharing it all with my best friend and soulmate—and now husband, too (and Jake, too, of course). Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that any of that would be true, so maybe that’s the real “take away message” from my experience: Don’t assume that your dreams won’t come true, because you may be only one day away from the start of it all.

And for me it all started fourteen years ago today.

Previous years’ posts:

Lucky 13: Expataversary and more

Twelfth Anniversary

Eleven Years an Expat

A related post:

Ex, but not ex-

Sunday, November 01, 2009

What Magna Carta?

The New Zealand has enacted a law that will allow the police to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested for a crime that could lead to a jail sentence. The arrested person has no say in this and a warrant is not required. If the person is ultimately found not guilty, we’re promised that the samples will be destroyed, which actually isn’t at all reassuring.

Predictably there’s been the chorus of “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got no reason to complain,” but this goes against nearly a millennium of common law stretching all the way back to Magna Carta. There should be probable cause and warrant from a judge, just as there is for other searches. This law change is the reason the phrase “slippery slope” exists.

The other day on TVNZ’s “Breakfast”, the ever-moronic Pippa Wetzell dismissed this as if her opinion were fact. Perhaps she might want to learn something about the issue—and the history of our system of rights and legal privileges—before pontificating on something she clearly knows nothing about.

Halloween, R.I.P.

As I expected, we didn’t get a single Trick-or-Treater last night. So, because I’m always prepared just in case, I’m stuck with candy I’ll have to eat. Such a burden!

Since I started posting about Halloween seeming to be dying out in New Zealand (in terms of the American traditions, at least), I’ve heard from several people in NZ who are or are not still seeing evidence of Halloween (some of those comments can be seen in the comments to previous posts on this subject). The TV news featured a party for kids in Devonport put on by some Kiwis who—surprise!—had lived in the US one stage, and liked the Halloween hoopla. This year, that seemed unique.

What I’ve seen this year has been a decline caused the one force more powerful than hype: Indifference. There was no campaign against it, no public discussion, just indifference.

When I first started seeing people in our area pushing American Halloween traditions—especially Trick-or-Treating—I hadn’t been in the country very long. Then, the opposition, such as it was, came from two main areas: Those who resented “creeping Americanism” (a phrase I hardly ever hear anymore), and those who objected on religious grounds (Auckland’s North Shore seems to have more than its fair share of fundamentalist churches—way more than its fair share…). But even way back then the biggest opponent was simple indifference.

This year, the NZ Police made two signs (above) available for download from their website. One was designed to welcome Trick-or-Treaters, the other asked them to stay away. This is a sensible, common-sense solution I thought was a logical thing to do way back when, but the Internet makes it easy to distribute such signs.

The police also posted a flyer of “Spooktacular things to remember at Halloween”. It was filled with the sort of advice that American parents follow, like “Stay in areas that are lit with streetlights,” “Be visible,” and “Always go trick or treating with an adult” (the first couple years, I seldom saw adults anywhere nearby). But there was also somewhat more modern—and sad—advice: “Only go where you or your friends know the residents.”

The police also reminded kids to “Understand what a prank is. Do not commit a crime thinking you will get away with it because it is Halloween.” Killjoys. They offered “Key Messages for householders” (why do all organisations talk of “key messages” nowadays?): “Householders do not have to open the door or respond to knocks on the door on Halloween.” Um, duh?

Kudos to the police for putting their slogan “Safer Communities Together” into action. The flyer may have been a bit wordy, but the advice was sound and the whole thing was a sensible way of approaching Halloween.

So, while this year was a total non-event in our area, that doesn’t mean it won’t come back in the future. Indifference is a powerful thing, however.

Update November 2, 2009: Some houses, however, are into Halloween fun.