Friday, December 31, 2010

And Happy New Year

I have this post pre-programmed to post at 11:59pm to make sure that this is my very last post of 2010 - and my first wish for the new year.


No good TV

Once again, NZ television SUCKED on New Year's Eve. Are they really so cheap or broke that they can't air something that's not so bloody awful, so downright cringeworthy?! We have plenty of talent in this country, so why do they subject us to all these crap performers?

Every year I hope for better, but it never happens. Will it ever?

I should mention...

There's some unfinished business from 2010: Sunny is adjusting very well to her new home. She plays with Jake, sleeps with all of us, and is very affectionate. It's better than we could've hoped.

More, and more photos, in the New Year.

First iPad post

I recently took over Nigel's iPad and have been playing with it ever since. It's pretty much everything I expected and wanted.

I wanted it mainly as an e-reader, and it's great for that. Actually, that's a subject in itself.

I also tried some games, which isn't what the iPad is known for. But Words with Friends is MUCH easier on a bigger screen. I also tried Sim City for the iPad, and it's much better than the normal Mac version.

I'll probably do a full review another time, but the main point of this was to try posting from iPad. It's not as easy as typing from a computer, but it's much easier than from the iPhone/iPod Touch.

And that's my first blog post from an iPad.

A bad spell

Some things don’t change for an expat. For me, spelling is one challenge I face every day.

I was always a good speller. In primary school I almost always did well in spelling quizzes. In later years, it wasn’t spelling that cost me points on school assignments.

Back then, of course, one had to know how to spell words or look them up: Personal computers and spellcheck didn’t yet exist. I still remember getting an electronic typewriter (“a what?” young people may be thinking…) in the mid-1980s. It was quite advanced, and if it detected a word it “thought” was misspelled, it would beep at me. At first I thought it was great—until I realised it was often catching words that were actually correctly spelled. It was also annoying when it was right: Stopping typing in mid-flight to go back and correct a word was a pain.

Since then the world and technology have changed a lot. My word processing software catches spelling errors as I go, like the typewriter used to, but it usually corrects them. It highlights the words it doesn’t correct so that I can review them. Web browsers now do that for me, too, like when I leave a comment on a blog.

But for all this to work, one has to pay attention to the spellcheckers and one has to review revisions and proposed revisions—they’re not always correct. To do that, one has to know how to spell. And this is where an expat like me can run into difficulty.

American spellings are different from those of other English-speaking countries—apart from Canada, which mainly uses the same spellings, and Australia, which uses some of the same spellings. The UK does not, and New Zealand, more often than not, uses the same spellings as the UK.

Well, it used to be that way.

Microsoft Word is the software of choice for most people and the US English dictionary is the default. Depending on where you get your software from, it may not even give you the option of installing a New Zealand dictionary. That means that one has to use UK English, while being aware that some words are different (we use “jail” not “gaol” like the UK and Australia, for example).

But because most people use US English as their spelling dictionary, their documents often have US spellings throughout them. This means that folks using that text somewhere else, like on a website or newsletter, for example, have to change the language dictionary and correct spellings the new dictionary doesn’t pick up.

And therein lies a problem: Increasingly US spelling is being considered acceptable alongside New Zealand spelling. How is anyone supposed to know how to spell anything? I take what to me is the only sensible approach and use the New Zealand spellings all the time, for all purposes, including leaving comments on US sites. As I said some four years ago, the best way to adapt to these spellings was to “go cold turkey” and just switch.

But it does leave things a bit of a muddle, and spelling errors can sneak through, and speaking of that, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Even now, after more than 15 years in New Zealand, I often still type “check” instead of “cheque”.

You just can’t rush some things, I suppose. It helps to spell them correctly, though.

Prayers before mealtime

Here's another blog post that I didn't publish this year. This one didn't make it because at the time I was swamped with real life things and I simply didn't have time to finish it. But at least I'm getting this published in the same month as the blog post it refers to!

One of the bloggers I’ve gotten to know the best, and had the most interaction with, is Roger Green. He blogs about an amazing variety of subjects, and is always interesting. A case in point is a recent post, “Meal Blessing QUESTION”, in which he asked about people’s blessing/prayer before mealtime. This is a particularly vexed topic for me, and possibly not for the reasons one might think.

When I was growing up, meals were preceded by a prayer—always. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t keen on that, but at dinner my dad—an ordained minister—said the prayer, and it just seemed like what was supposed to happen, regardless of what I thought about it. Sometimes my mother or a sibling or I would be called on, but usually it was my dad. I hated doing the prayer, not because of the religious stuff, but because it was a sort of public performance, and I was quite shy.

Given this automatic praying, it may be surprising that when I was a kid, my mother didn’t force me into prayer, especially if we stopped for a snack while I was with her shopping, or at one of her lunch meetings—even when it was a church group. I’d often bow my head, but pray? Not always.

I noticed that at non-religious dinners, including in restaurants, my mother didn’t overtly pray. Instead, as she told me years later, “I just pretended to be adjusting the napkin on my lap as a I said a quick, silent prayer.” That intrigued me, but I didn’t really understand why until many, many years later.

By the time high school graduation neared, my own religiousness was fading. I tried to fan the embers for more than a decade, but to no avail. As years passed, and my religiousness faded even more, I began to resent mandatory or assumed religiosity—like saying a prayer before a meal.

A few years more and I find myself in New Zealand, where many Maori traditions and practices are expressly Christian, even in a public (governmental) setting. This presented a problem for me: How do I remain true to my own beliefs while not disrespecting Maori?

Eventually, the solution in public settings was for me was to remain quiet when the prayers are said, but I don’t bow my head nor say “amen” at the end. However, I couldn’t figure out what to do when I was on the Marae: It’s like being in someone’s home, after all, and their rules apply.

And then I remembered my mother and her solution for the opposite problem.

I now look into space in front of me, slightly downward. To some, it may appear I’ve bowed my head a little, others may realise I’m not. But I still remain silent—something that’s not at all unusual considering these prayers are often done in Maori, which I don’t speak.

So my mother’s solution for practicing her religion in a public setting gave me a way to avoid participating in religious practices I don’t share. And it all began with prayers before mealtime.

Like a record, baby

I used to buy a lot of records, then CDs, but now I buy neither: I buy songs through iTunes Store. This includes replacing records.

As long time readers may remember, when I went to the US in late 2007 to dispose of the last of my stuff I had stored there, I had to leave behind nearly all of my records. In the three years since, I’ve bought a few albums through the iTunes Store, found some as cheap CDs, some I’ll still eventually buy and the rest, well, I probably don’t want them anymore, anyway.

To answer an obvious question, these electronic files have multiple redundant backups, so I’m not worried about losing them except in the same ways I once could’ve lost records/CDs: Theft, fire, natural disaster. But there are strategies to remove even that risk.

This is one of those paradigm shifts I often talk about, where successful technology is evolutionary, seldom truly revolutionary. What that means is that new technologies actually use an existing paradigm that people are familiar with. Microwave ovens, for example, work in many of the same ways as traditional ovens, only faster and through a different method. Cassettes and CDs and now MP3 music are extensions of the record that people were already familiar with (though the introduction of records arguably was revolutionary).

Still, it’s all a matter of perspective, really. Today I saw a Tweet: “Before iPods we’d go to places that were like in-person iTunes Stores to get circles made of mirrors that made music if spinning in a gizmo.” This is cute, but I couldn’t help thinking it was a young person’s perspective, someone who’s aping being a sage remembering the near past.

I remember browsing through the bins of a record store, or looking at a big wall filled with the Top 20 albums. Then, once I brought my new record home, opening the shrink-wrap and smelling the ink-on-cardboard scent of the jacket, combined with the smell of the vinyl record within. Neither iTunes nor CD stores gave the same sensations, but I don’t really miss them.

Records took a lot of space to store, were VERY heavy to move, and weren’t portable. CDs were portable, but took a lot of space to store and a LOT of boxes to move (when it seemed one or more plastic jewel cases were always broken). Electronic music, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily take any physical space to store, is completely transportable and easy to move. To me, all this trumps the few drawbacks (although I do miss the extensive artwork in the jacket, inner sleeve and sometimes the label, too).

I get why people are nostalgic about the technology before—CDs or records—but I’m not one of them. I want the music, and the specific delivery medium isn’t that important to me as long as I have the file in my possession, not on some company’s computers somewhere else. Some paradigm shifts take longer than others. But the music will keep playing in the meantime.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Every year, I start many blog posts that for one reason or another I never publish. This is one of those abandoned posts, hauled out, cleaned up and presented as one that didn’t make it—until now.

It rains during Auckland’s winter. In fact, it rains quite a bit—well, it would, being the wettest time of year, and the coldest. Maybe it’s that seasonal dampness that’s behind the anti-Auckland jokes the rest of the country likes so much, right? Well…

The jokes are old and stale, but they go like this: Q: What do you call two days of rain in Auckland? A: A weekend. Q: What do you call three days of rain? A: A holiday weekend. Q: And what’s four days of rain in Auckland called? A: Easter Weekend.

It was probably the first anti-Auckland joke I heard when I arrived in New Zealand, and I quickly found a disconnect: It clearly didn’t rain nearly as much in Auckland as the joke suggested, not even in Winter, so what was the deal?

Weather data shows that in an average year Rotorua receives far more rain than Auckland, and Wellington gets more, too—yet neither gets made fun of. The reason becomes apparent in the stats from the South Island: Christhurch, Dunedin and Queenstown all get less rain than Auckland in an average year. If you want to know the source of the joke, look South—and know the rest of the country will gladly join in telling the joke.

People in the rest of New Zealand refer to someone from Auckland as a JAFA—Just Another Fucking Aucklander—as if everyone here’s the same. They say we’re all rich, arrogant and have no concept of anything “south of the Bombays” (the hills at the south of the Auckland region).

Why the antipathy?

According to the 2006 Census, 37% of people in the Auckland region were born overseas, most commonly in the United Kingdom. Auckland has been the destination-of-choice for migrants who typically don’t move to rural areas (while many migrants choose other cities, Auckland rates the highest). Add in the Aucklanders who were born in other parts of the country, and it turns out that a large percentage of the region’s residents weren’t born in it.

However, it’s unlikely that the large foreign-born population is the issue. Some people, especially those who think all those foreigners are Asian, may focus on this, but I doubt it’s the main reason for the antipathy because racism just isn’t as big a driver in New Zealand as it is in other places.

Is it size, then? The Auckland Region has 32.4 percent of New Zealand's population. In fact, Auckland has more people than the entire South Island. Moreover, the economic activity in the Auckland region was estimated at 36% of New Zealand's national GDP, and 15% more than the entire South Island. This is what I think is at the heart of the issue: Auckland is bigger and more economically powerful than any other city in New Zealand and that has bred resentment.

To be sure, Auckland has sometimes done itself no favours, occasionally focusing so much on its needs that the rest of the country feels put upon. However, as has been well documented in many places, Auckland pays more in all taxes to Central Government than it receives back in funding: Auckland has been subsidising works projects in other parts of the country. It took Central Government decades to agree to fix Auckland’s broken motorway system, which by conservative estimates cost the New Zealand economy millions of dollars a year in lost productivity alone.

The newly unified Auckland will probably affect this in two ways. First, it’ll make Auckland’s lobbying of Central Government much more efficient and, potentially, effective. But it will also surely increase resentment of Auckland in the rest of the country. That could create new political tensions, but with the size and dominance of Auckland—which are projected to increase substantially over the next 25 years—the rest of the country will have to learn to live with the reality of Auckland. They may not like it, some will resent it, and they’ll certainly continue to make dumb jokes, but none of that changes the reality of Auckland’s importance to the country.

So, if someone asks, “what do you call two rainy days in Auckland?” the correct answer is: “Two days of rain. What’s it called where you live?”

We’re second-best in the world!

CNN has named New Zealand the second top destination in the world for 2011. New York City is number one. They noted that the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which will be held in New Zealand, will be “adding excitement to an already popular destination.”

From there they talk about Wellington, “Lord of the Rings” scenery and luxury lodges, all of which is true and notable, but there’s so much more to the country than all of that, but it’s hard to fit all that in to five paragraphs.

New York is number one on the list because: “A huge tourist destination in any year, the city will be especially unforgettable as it marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks next year.” True, but that city, too, has so much more to offer.

Any favourable publicity is useful, and I hope that it does bring more Americans to visit New Zealand. It’s really worth it!

The “World's top destinations for 2011” are: 1. New York, 2. New Zealand, 3. Peruvian Amazon, 4. Barcelona, Spain, 5. Norway, 6. Albania (yes, really!), 7. Japan, 8. Guatemala, 9. Bulgaria.

Chosen words

Last year, I noted that New Zealand retailers had no “war on Christmas”, like the one the rightwingers in America imagined for that country. I noted this year that “Christmas” was pretty much the universal word used by retailers.

More recently, one of the NZ folks I follow on Twitter posted that one of the advantages of living in a secular country like New Zealand is that it’s possible to forget that Christmas has any religious connotations, and he liked that fact. Actually, I do, too.

Naturally, the minority among us who are religious want the rest of us to see things as they do, or to at least respect their beliefs. New Zealanders, being a fair-minded people, do the latter, but the former? It’s a pretty big ask.

One women’s clothing store chain has always run expressly religious TV commercials at Christmas. I referred to it obliquely in last year’s post, and I’m not going to name them now, either, because there are two chains with very similar names and I don’t want to confuse them. And, in any case, the particular store isn’t the issue, it’s the words they chose.

This year their ads proclaimed, “it couldn’t be Christmas without CHRIST.” That’s a rough approximation because I saw the ad only once, but the last word was all capital letters; the wording may have been slightly different, but you get the idea.

Obviously, I don’t have an objection to them saying that in their ad if they want to, but I wonder how wise it was. Smart alecks like me are likely to point out that many people—the vast majority of New Zealanders, in fact—manage to have Christmas without Christ or any other religious figure. And I don’t just mean atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc., but also the majority of Kiwi Christians who are not overtly religious. Big, national retailers don’t run religious advertising pretty much for this very reason (the same reason they don’t embrace any contentious viewpoint, actually).

In this case, I’d bet that the majority of New Zealanders didn’t see the ad (it has a very short run at a busy time of year), but even if they did, at worst they’d roll their eyes and carry on as before. I doubt that the chain will lose many customers over it, though it may lose a few who may not feel welcome in a business that sells stuff using its TV ads to proselytise. For such customers, their reaction may be along the lines of, “if this is what they say publicly, what are the attitudes that they don’t express?” That would probably be what would cross my mind.

But I would see it that way: I’m a politically progressive totally non-religious person. I’m the sort of person who sees a “Jesus is the reason for the season” slogan and thinks to myself, “no, axial tilt is the reason for the season.”

I’d love to know what the reason for the religious advertising is, why they turned it up a notch this year, and whether it affects their sales at all. But I’m not likely to ever know the answer to any of those questions. Like most New Zealanders, I just don’t care enough to find out.

Update 15 August 2011: I normally wouldn't add to an old blog post, but today I re-read this one while looking for something else, and got curious. It turns out the commercial I was talking about is on YouTube, so I've posted it above. It also turns out that I was wrong about the word "christ" being in all caps; my impression was a trick of the font, together with having seen it only once. Again, I reiterate that I have nothing against them professing their religion, I just wonder why they'd take that risk. Maybe secular New Zealand, which doesn't care about religion, also wouldn't care about overt religious promotion in a TV ad. One thing is certain: Their Christmas ads are totally unique.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday brain

These days, I find it’s a good idea to write things down. It’s not just appointments and to do lists, important as they are, but also ideas for stuff. A consequence of getting older, I suppose. In a holiday time, this is even more important as I’m even less focused than my less-than-focused normal.

Yesterday morning I woke up with what I thought was a great idea for a blog post, one I thought had the potential to be thought-provoking or maybe insightful. I knew I should write it down as soon as I got up, but that wasn’t convenient (it was still the holidays and there were people in the house to socialise with). Naturally, I completely forgot my “great idea”.

There’s a possibility that I’ll think it again, only since I won’t remember it from the first time, it’ll be all brand new and shiny. This is the one advantage of having a memory not as sharp as when I was younger: Some things are “new” many different times.

But lack of time to write things down isn’t the only barrier to thinking about blog posts, of course: There are plenty of other distractions. Today we went shopping (and got some clothes 30% or 20% off regular price, for example). Then there was lunch to have. In the evening, dinner and more socialising. Blogging takes a back seat to all such things, especially at the holidays.

However, there are three more days in this year, three more-or-less normal days (for a holiday period), and so there are plenty of opportunities to think of new topics (or to re-discover forgotten topics).

Provided, of course, this holiday brain doesn’t continue to be in control. And, if it does, I’m sure I’ll re-discover many great ideas in the new year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

And back to it… again

The Christmas holidays were great. It doesn’t matter specifically what we did (nine people, all up, at our house—a great day), but I’ll say one word my Chicago self could never have imagined being associated with Christmas: Barbecue. It was much cooler this year than last (in our house), and that matters, too.

We did NOT go to any Boxing Day sales this year. There was nothing we wanted/needed, and we couldn’t be bothered fighting the crowds just to look.

Actually, this year the stat holidays are bumped to Monday and Tuesday (because Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell on a weekend), so we have another day to visit the sales—or not.

Tomorrow we return to just us, and the projects we’ve set out for ourselves, including re-organising my office (a project I’ve already begun). We expect to get a lot done over the next couple weeks.

This also means that I’ll be returning to normal blogging. I’ve been thinking about a couple things to blog about, and they may even actually become blog posts. In fact, I expect to do quite a few blog posts between now and the end of the year. You have been warned!

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast

Above is the annual Christmas Broadcast from Her Majesty, the Queen of New Zealand (and other countries). A few years ago, the Queen stopped doing ordinary speeches and started doing these—well, Royal Infomercials.

Still, I bet the former colonials in the United States don’t get to see this, so I feel duty bound, as a dual national, to make it available to my countrymen of both nations. Or, something like that…

For more official videos of the Royal Family of New Zealand (and other countries), check out The Royal Channel on YouTube.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas to all

And now that I’ve filled up my blog with videos that mean something to me (which is why this is a personal journal blog…), I take my leave. It’ll be a full and fun day tomorrow, quite possibly without a post (can you imagine?).

So, let me just end this Christmas Eve with the obvious: A Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night.

My favourite Christmas songs

There’s no way to categorically list my favourite Christmas songs—that list is constantly changing. Some songs aren’t on YouTube, which isn’t surprising, really. For example,  Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child” was released before I was born. Fortunately for me, there are some videos on YouTube that I want to share.

Firstly, “Happy Xmas (Was Is Over)” by John and Yoko Lennon. The thing about this song is the theme “War is over if you want it”. In my youth I used to think, what if everyone in the world all at once decided “no more war” and deposed all the politicians who do want war. How might the world be different if it chose peace and not war? I’m tempted to say, “you may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”, but the truth is that I’ve grown cynical that we even have the power to tell politicians what to do, even if we suddenly discovered morality and ended war. And, yet: War is over, if you want it.

Next up, something far grittier and real and, for some, the best Christmas song ever. Well, for me it’s a good song, and often on my Christmas Top Ten, but best ever? Mmmmm, not sure about that…

And finally, The Carpenters “Merry Christmas, Darling”. For many years, this song was on my AM radio shortly before I got up to open my presents on Christmas morning, and this was way before it was ever available for purchase. Because of that memory and more, it still gets me, and will always be among my top Christmas songs.

Not-entirely commercial Christmas

Okay, my last post relied a lot on the commercialisation of Christmas. This time, I’m posting a couple videos from companies that aren’t directly selling anything,

First, here’s a video described on YouTube this way: “this video Christmas card was created entirely by Air New Zealand staff.” It’s far more work than I’d be willing to do.

Next, a classic video from 1966, a Christmas interstitial for CBS designed by R.O. Blechman, animated by Willis Pyle and music arranged by Arnie Black (according to the posting on YouTube). I always liked its simplicity.

Classic Christmas TV

What else is Christmas for but selling stuff, right? I’m kidding, I’m kidding, but presents are so often associated with Christmas that it follows that Christmas TV ads are, too. So, I thought I’d share some that still stick with me

The first two are two different versions of the same ad theme, Norelco’s “NoĆ«lco: Even our name says Merry Christmas” ads with the Santa riding a triple header shaver. The first one is from the 1960s, the second from the 1970s. I remember the first better, but also the second. I also remember that at least one year they ran during the annual broadcast of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and some of the elves appeared in the ad. But it was the Santa riding the triple header that made it stick in my mind for over 40 years.

The final ad is for Folger’s coffee. It was a long-running ad, and was, at the time, one of my favourites. What can I say? I’m a sentimentalist. Still, seems kinds dated now. Oh well.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sad, pathetic nobody

Once upon a time, there was a man who was regarded as some sort of hero, a man who stood up to the ideologues of his own party to chart a maverick’s course. He was respected even by adversaries and was once even considered a possibility for US President.

That version of John McCain is dead and the US Senate is left with Zombie McCain shuffling around looking for more brains to eat. Well he would, wouldn’t he? He’s clearly lost his own.

I simply can’t believe how quickly and completely McCain has become an angry, grumpy old man devoid of reason and even rationality. His bizarre obsession with stopping the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and his willingness to keep changing his reasons for doing so as each one was dealt with, have left him alone and isolated way out on the fringe with some Republicans who are not at all nice people. Some company.

I could engage in armchair psychology and suggest that he’s descended into psychosis as the result of his loss in the 2008 election—a psychosis that probably happened in part because of his mistake in picking the former half-term governor of Alaska as his running mate, unleashing her and him as national jokes. I could suggest that, and I might even be right, but in the end it doesn’t matter why he’s fallen so far off the beam: He just has.

John McCain could’ve gone down in history as a credible politician, one who ably used his abilities to get some of his agenda accomplished. Instead, he’ll be remembered—if he is at all—as a sad, pathetic nobody who found himself on the wrong side of history and chose to dig a trench and fight a battle that was already lost.

It was his choice to become Zombie McCain. Best we just leave him to decay in peace (well, in pieces, if you want to be true to the idiom).

The ugly American

One of the things emerging from the Wikileaks cables is what an awful, pathetic and useless waste of space ex-US Ambassador to New Zealand Charles Swindells really was. His cables show that he was someone who was either completely detached from reality, a liar or deluded.

Here’s one example of Swindell’s lunacy: In 2004, New Zealand found that three agents from Israel’s Mosad spy agency had attempted to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. New Zealand suspended top-level diplomatic contact until Israel finally apologised in 2005.

But to Swindells, New Zealand was really just trying to boost the sale of lamb to Arab countries. I was here then, and I remember how many ordinary New Zealanders—me included—wanted the country to break off diplomatic relations with Israel until they apologised and pledged to never do that again. The government got as close to that as they could without actually breaking off diplomatic relations. If anything, their response to Israel was too mild, not too harsh, as Swindells implied.

The Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff (who was a senior minister in the Labour-led Government when Swindells was Ambassador), thinks Swindells didn’t know what he was doing because he saw everything through the eyes of a businessman, not understanding that in diplomacy, not everything is about trade: Countries also act based on principles. But Goff also correctly noted:
"It's the norm for the Americans to appoint ambassadors that aren't professionals... Charles I think really suffered from a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding of how countries work and what they do. He had his job because he's obviously a big contributor to the Republican Party, he made the assumption because he thought about the world in a particular way other people might as well."
So, Swindells was clearly detached from reality. Was he also lying? It’s impossible to know, but while he certainly could’ve ignored reality to try to suck up to the Bush-Cheney regime, I doubt that dishonesty was behind his bizarre cables. Instead, I’d say that as a member of the same privileged ruling class as that regime, it’s far more likely that he simply couldn’t even imagine any other reality. Put more simply, he was deluded, having been blinded by his class and political biases.

Charles Swindells was without a doubt the worst Ambassador the US has sent to New Zealand in the years I’ve lived here. I remember him being quoted frequently by the New Zealand newsmedia saying all sorts of unflattering things about the then Labour Government. I was not sorry to see him go.

And I think the US owes New Zealand an apology for ever having sent that awful, pathetic and useless waste of space to this country.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

There’s an app for that, too

For some reason, the national-led government has released an iPhone app (one for Android is also available from the Android Market). It provides the news summary from the government site (beehive.govt.nz). Using it, one can access the feed and individual press releases and speeches, much as one can do on the website or by following the Twitter feed of the NZ National Party (http://twitter.com/NZNationalParty) or maybe that of Prime Minister John Key (http://twitter.com/johnkeypm) whose staff sometimes tweet Beehive posts. Curiously, there’s no Twitter feed for the Beehive site itself.

The app’s okay as far as it goes, if not terribly useful, but there are two things I don’t like at all: First, and most obnoxiously, the start up screen is a big photo of John Key (the image accompanying this post is that welcome screen; click on it to embiggen). It’s a little too Big Brother-ish.

The other thing is more basic: The “Social” tab shows recent Tweets on Twitter that contain the word “beehive”. Most of them are completely irrelevant and some aren’t exactly family-friendly. This feature obviously wasn’t well thought out. Now, if The Beehive had a Twitter account, it could display Tweets that contain that “@” in the Tweet, so they’d at least be relevant—well, there’s a greater chance they could be, anyway.

Worse than all of that for iPhone users, it’s only available from a website: Access http://isites.us/apps/beehive/beehive_ from Safari on your iPhone (I don’t know if it works with iPod Touch). Then, look for the line that says: “To install Instant App for iPhone, visit The Beehive from Safari” and click on the link.

With a convoluted installation process as well as flawed design, this app has very limited appeal—and not a whole lot of point right now. But, at least it’s free.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunny has arrived

Our new fur baby, Sunny, arrived this afternoon. She came to us because she could no longer stay with her previous family and we were chosen as the new home because we have Jake, a cavoodle like Sunny.

The introduction went smoothly; the kids all tolerated each other well, and they all seemed at ease. Sunny had a quiet evening, but isn’t quite at home yet. This will take time. She’s left the only home she’s ever known, and it will take awhile for her to adjust. That’s to be expected.

On her side is the fact that she’s been boarded at other people’s houses before, so this experience isn’t totally new to her. In time, she’ll adjust to our routines and even feel at home—but it will take time.

Also on her side: She has two patient, experienced carers who know a thing or two about integrating a new fur baby (though I sought advice all the same—it would be arrogant to assume that one knows it all!).

The photo above is of Sunny setting a paw inside the house for the first time, with Jake close behind. The photo below is of Sunny sitting and looking out the deck doors. No doubt more photos are to come!

I’ve added the tag “Furbabies”, and I’ll eventually add that link to all my old posts about our furbabies. I’ve also created a set on Flickr to hold all these photos. It will be added to.

Summer solstice

At 11:38pm tonight, summer “officially” arrives in New Zealand because that’s when the summer solstice arrives. Longest day of the year, and all that. Someone really should’ve told summer to wait, because it sure didn’t.

It’s been hot lately. This afternoon, it hit 35 at our house (95 in US Fahrenheit degrees). It’s been in the 30s several days recently—all of them after December 1, the date we always say is the start of summer. Maybe you can see why we say that.

But whether you take out word for it or astronomers, summer is upon us. To me, that’s always a good thing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kiwis back MMP

A new TV One/Colmar Brunton poll has found that 50 per cent of New Zealanders are in favour of keeping MMP, with 41 per cent opposed and 9 per cent undecided. This is the third Colmar Brunton poll over the last five years indicating most want to keep MMP.

MMP, or Mixed Member Proportional representation, is the easiest, fairest and most democratic voting system I’ve ever seen. The system is designed so that Parliament precisely reflects the wishes of voters, and after five elections under the system, New Zealanders are getting the hang of it.

Next year, at the general election, voters will be faced with a referendum asking whether they want to retain MMP and, if not, what they’d replace it with (from a list of options, and regardless of how they voted in the first question). If MMP wins the first round, the Electoral Commission will review it and give the Government suggestions on any changes it thinks should be made. If it does not win the first round, in 2014 (the next general election) it will face off against the top-polling alternative.

I like MMP and prefer it to systems such as STV, preferential voting, instant run-off, etc. MMP is one thing the others are not: Proportional. That means that minority and even marginal segments of society are represented when they simply couldn’t and wouldn’t be under any other system—especially the antique “first past the post” system used in most of the US and for Congressional elections.

MMP isn’t perfect and it certainly has room for improvement, but those are things that reasonable people can come to an agreement about. Keeping a system that guarantees proportional representation is the first step, and the biggest segment of New Zealanders agrees with that much at least. It’s a good first step.

Fair is fair

If I ask people to put aside partisanship when the occasion calls for it, then I must do the same. So, a HUGE thank you to Senators Kirk and Liebermann.

The battle to finally end the stain of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) entered its final stages when yesterday the US Senate FINALLY voted to repeal DADT (as the US House had already done—twice). This is an important step on the road to full equality for GLBT Americans, but also a big step forward for a sane, rational and appropriate defence policy.

The Senate vote was nearly 2 to 1 in favour of repeal, with only the worst of the worst US Senators opposing it—the folks we wouldn’t miss if they were to suddenly disappear. But among those voting in favour of repeal was the new US Senator from Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk. I’ve not been kind to him in recent months, and I probably won’t be in the future, but he did the right thing on this vote and I both acknowledge that and thank him for voting correctly. We may be adversaries much of the time, but I can and do take my hat off to him for doing the right thing on this issue.

But with Senator Joseph Liebermann, it goes even farther. I’ve been scathing in my attitude toward him. On this issue, however, he not only did the right thing by voting correctly, he also mounted a herculean effort to marshal votes for repeal when all the pundits said the cause was lost. Senator Liebermann went beyond the extra mile, he flat out saved the day, and for that he has my thanks and my respect.

It is possible, possibly even likely, that I will again disagree with Senators Kirk and Liebermann when the new Congress convenes. But I will nevertheless honour them for their votes—and Senator Liebermann for his work—on behalf of this issue.

Sometimes, even adversaries can be allies. One day, perhaps we can even be friends.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend Diversion: New Toad The Wet Sprocket song

This is a new song is from Toad the Wet Sprocket (TTWS), a band that rose to prominence with their 1991 Album “Fear”. It had the Top 20 hits “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean”. Their next album, 1994’s “Dulcinea” produced charted singles “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong”. The band hasn’t recorded since 1997, though they toured after that.

This month, the band announced it was reuniting, and this song is their first recording since 1997. “It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas” was written by Sam Phillips (her own version is on YouTube). The TTWS song is free for anyone who wants it: All you have to do is sign up for the band’s email list. (I don't know what the procedure is if you click the "download" button above).

Back in the day, I was frequently driving back and forth to a home improvement store and when “All I Want” came on the radio, I turned it way up. I’ve liked them, and the solo work by lead singer Glen Phillips, ever since. It’s nice to have them back.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The joke tells itself

The reason that atheists, agnostics and firm secularists mock fundamentalist religionists is that fundies are the jokes. Sure, there are a lot of very funny non-religious people who could write some damn good jokes, but why bother when the fundies do such a great job of being jokes?

An official project of the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage has demanded that gay people stop using the rainbow as a symbol. The group’s leader declared:
"Proposition 8 was passed by a great grassroots coalition that included people from all across the religious traditions, and also people of every race and color. We are the real rainbow coalition. The gay lobby does not own the rainbow."
At the risk of taking a crazy person seriously, duh! No one “owns” a rainbow. If she wants to use one she’s perfectly free to do so. But she’ll probably be associated with being pro-gay if she does, but that’s her choice.

Right Wing Watch, part of People for the American Way, rightly pointed out that she was channelling NOM’s infamous—and massively parodied—“Gathering Storm” ad. Still, she thinks rainbows are all about her particular religious views: “Those are great Christian symbols, great Jewish symbols,” she said. Why? Well, silly, because “the rainbow is a sign of God's covenant with man."

Clearly she’s the very definition of a “rightwing nutjob”, and an example of why we even have that phrase. The rainbow was supposedly a symbol that the Old Testament god (who was one seriously angry and petty dude…) would never again destroy the world by flood. This will come as a surprise to NOM, but that actually has nothing whatsoever to do with same-sex marriage.

But to add burning irony on top of ignorant stupidity, the project is called the “Ruth Institute”. The website doesn’t explain the name anywhere, but since it’s main mission is attacking gay marriage, one can infer that the name comes from the Book of Ruth.

A particular quotation from that Old Testament book is widely used in Protestant and Catholic wedding ceremonies, and the character of Ruth worked hard to get her widowed daughters-in-law hitched. This is presumably what would attract NOM—the association with marriage (not necessarily that women were their husband’s property in those days).

The quote that’s so often used is a beautiful expression of selfless love:
“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” Ruth 1:16-17 (King James Version)
These words of love, so often included in heterosexual wedding ceremonies, were originally spoken by one woman to another. Irony in itself, but to have a rabidly anti-gay group choose this story and its protagonist to apparently name their project increases the irony level exponentially.

This incident—and the literal craziness of the religious right—are absolutely hilarious. Sadly, their money, power and influence are no joke, even if they are.

The photo accompanying this post is a photoshopped detail from one of my photos that I posted last year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A friend in need

I’ve always said that one of the best things about blogging and podcasting is getting to know and interact with people all over the world. We may never meet a lot of these folks, but it’s still fun and interesting, regardless. However, I do wish we had a good neologism to describe these people, something other than “online friend,” “blogging buddy,” etc.

Anyway, because I write/podcast about expat issues, moving to New Zealand and such, I’ve made contact with quite a few people interested in one or both, and that’s great. Some of them I continue to interact with, and one of those is Mhairi Gordon.

When we first “met”, she and her partner were looking to emigrate to New Zealand. For a number of reasons, that didn’t work out (check out her blog for the story, still evolving—it’s really interesting).

Through this process, Mhairi began a business offering life coaching, a business that’s remarkably portable—an especially good idea for someone planning to be an expat! Mhairi is currently doing some market research and wondered if my readers might be willing to help her by completing a survey. She even offers a free coaching session to sweeten the deal!

So, here’s Mhairi’s message to you. Like I said, I’ve gotten to know her, and this is legit:
Hi, I’m Mhairi Gordon and in return for your time and help, I’d like to offer you some free support. I’m currently carrying-out market research to develop my business, which helps people become happier and more successful. It’s genuine market research; I won’t be selling you anything.

I have two anonymous and confidential questionnaires: it would great if you would complete one; and pass-on this message to any contacts who might be interested. Details of how to claim the support are at the end of each questionnaire.

Many thanks for your time and help.

Option 1

Are you a designer/photographer/artist/in another creative business? Would you like free, professional support to start/grow a business? Please complete the anonymous & confidential survey at http://bit.ly/CreativeBizz.

Option 2

Do doubts and fears stop you going for what you want in life? Would you like free, professional support to gain internal assurance and greater confidence? Please complete the anonymous and confidential survey at http://bit.ly/DoubtsFears.

Read and report

Readers of New Zealand political blogs are invited to complete the “New Zealand Political Blog Readers’ Survey “for 2010. If you are a New Zealand political blogger, there’s another survey you can take part in, too (the link appears when you complete the readers’ survey). I did both surveys (hey, I sometimes talk about New Zealand politics!) and apart from being way too small to read unless I increased the view pretty dramatically, they were quick and painless. Plus, I just love taking part in surveys.

Tip o’ the Hat to Labour’s Red Alert, um, political blog…

Gone and soon forgotten

The New Zealand Parliament has risen for the year. The first sitting day next year will be 8 February 2011. I can’t imagine that anyone will miss then while they’re gone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A new global GLBT rights group?

I’ve had this video on my list to post for a few days and only now that my schedule is returning to normal can I finally get around to it. It’s a promotional video for a new organisation called All Out, which will launch next year. It aims to be a global organisation working for GLBT equality. On their site, they note:
“In 76 countries around the world being LGBT is a criminal offense. In 10, it is legal grounds for execution or life imprisonment. Even in countries where LGBT people have secured basic rights, many LGBT people are denied the opportunity to live full and equal lives and endure daily homophobia.”
True enough, and I can certainly see a role for a global organisation. Such a group could be particularly useful to put pressure on the bad countries. So, the group could be interesting (or it may not amount to anything). We’ll probably have a better idea next year.

In the meantime, though, I think this video is very well done, and that’s the reason I’m sharing it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Humourless idiots

Air New Zealand has caved to recent complaints about a brief gay non-kiss in their flight safety video. I wrote about the video nearly four months ago after I saw an American blog post in which the blogger disliked the “grimace” of Richard Kahui when he turns down a male flight attendant’s request for a kiss on the cheek. My post four months ago included the video.

At the time, I felt the blogger’s reaction, and those of some of the folks commenting on the post, were imposing American values on New Zealand, expecting us to see the world their way and to share both their sense of humour and their over-sensitivity to supposed slights. As an American-born New Zealander, I’m probably more perceptive of that tension than either Americans or New Zealanders generally. I’m sure that also means more sensitive to it, which inevitably means I’m probably over-sensitive sometimes, too.

But in this case, I thought the video—and that scene in context within the video—was just a bit of cheeky fun. To me, it was clearly not intended to be offensive—and it wasn’t.

Clearly most Air New Zealand customers agreed with me because the video ran with little turmoil all this time. Then last week they received a lot of complaints about it. My gut-level suspicion is that there was some event on around that time and a bunch of like-minded people flew Air New Zealand, were offended, and complained. But who?

There’s nothing in any of the media reports I’ve seen that described anything about the complainers. Most people, including the gay flight attendant, assumed it was humourless gay people. They’ve been branded as “professional victims” and worse. But unless someone has seen some information the newsmedia haven’t reported, the complainers aren’t necessarily gay people: There’s a certain segment of heterosexuals who would’ve been offended by what is the only overtly (albeit, mildly) gay part of the video.

It really doesn’t matter what sort of people complained or why. To me, they’re humourless idiots who think they have a right to decide what everyone can and cannot see. To me, the bigger question here is why did Air New Zealand decide to delete the scene now, after it’s run for months and only had a few more weeks to run, anyway?

Humourless idiots abound, it seems.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Give a little respect

One of my favourite groups since the 1980s is Erasure. They’ve just taken their 20-year old song, A Little Respect, and released a version called A Little Respect (HMI Redux) as a fundraiser for the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the True Colors Fund. The video is above.

The Hetrick-Marin Institute is the oldest and largest LGBTQ youth service organization in the US, and the home of the Harvey Milk High School in New York City: “The Hetrick-Martin Institute creates a safe and supportive environment in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, ages 12 to 21, can reach their full potential.”

The True Colors Fund “was co-founded by Cyndi Lauper to inspire and engage everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality and to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth homelessness.”

The video features many of the youth from Hetrick-Martin, whose youth chorus also provides the backing vocals. I admit I don’t recognise the folks in the cameos (apart from Michael Musto), but they’re not really the point.

The song is available on iTunes (99 cents in the US, $1.79 in New Zealand; follow the link, click on “View in iTunes” and iTunes will take you to your country’s store). It’s a small donation—very small—but added up it can do a lot of good. I don’t often ask others to donate to good causes, but this is so little that even if you don’t like the song or Erasure, I ask you to buy the song anyway.

How great would it be if the song raised a lot of money? Imagine: Some at-risk youth, kids at much greater danger of experiencing violence, victimisation, substance abuse and suicide, might actually get a little respect—despite the best efforts of those who work hard to deny them even that. A Christmas miracle, indeed.

Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me…

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Busy days short shots

I’m incredibly busy right now, and will return to real blogging soon. In the meantime, a few short takes:

The tax “compromise” is wrong

A few days ago I wrote about why Democrats and President Obama should stand strong against Republicans’ push for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Since then the only thing that’s changed is that the Obama Administration capitulated to Republican demands. I expect to have more to say about that once the dust settles, but for now I’ll say that President Obama was wrong on two counts—that this was the “only” deal possible and also in attacking the liberal and progressive base of the Democratic Party. Worse, the tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires won’t create one damn job, so it was all for nothing.

All I want for Christmas

Seen in multiple Tweets on Twitter today:

“All I want for Christmas this year is the 2008 version of Obama.”

Farewell, Elizabeth Edwards

I never met Elizabeth Edwards, who passed away today, but I admired her. She was graceful in her many battles—losing a teenaged son, battling breast cancer, her husband’s infidelity and then the return of the cancer that ultimately took her life. It was her fierce advocacy for principles—ones that I also hold—that made me admire her and now mourn her passing. She was the very definition of a real patriot—and a good human being.

The version before

On Sunday I posted a video called “Candlelight” by a Jewish a cappella group called “The Maccabeats”. I later noticed that the video had been removed—apparently I’d posted someone else’s posting, not the folks who made it.

When I went to YouTube to get the embed code to fix that, I found that video was credited to another video, Mike Tomkins’ a cappella cover of Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite”. You following this? A video based on a video cover of another person’s song. Right. Okay, then.

Anyway, Tomkins’ version features him making all the instrument sounds by mouth, interesting in itself (and the main reason I’m posting it), but he also shows how he did it. And he doesn’t autotune his singing, which is always a plus. His other videos are on his YouTube Channel.

The original version (the ancestor of both the videos I posted) is also available on YouTube, but I’m not posting it here, partly because it may not be available for viewing everywhere in the world and one restricted video a month is enough.

Which just goes to show how you look on the Internet for one thing and come away with another.

Update: Billboard has ranked the original version of this song, by Taio Cruz, as the ninth biggest hit of 2010. Another of his songs was tenth.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A bob each way

It looks like the New Zealand Herald, and some of its sources, are trying to have it both ways when predicting the weather.

On Friday, the Herald headlined a story “La Nina heatwave sweeps the country”. Citing the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa), the paper said, “New Zealand is in for a long, hot summer as La Nina hits our shores.” They said:
“People could expect temperatures to be several degrees Celsius above normal, taking some regions into the 30s ‘from time to time’. While good news for holiday-makers, it was not so good for Northland or Waikato farmers already concerned about dry conditions.”
Today that same newspaper headlined a story “The forecast: wettest summer in 21 years”. Citing Weather Watch, the weather prediction arm of privately-owned RadioNetwork, the paper reported: “The North Island is in for the wettest summer in 21 years—ending the recent dry spell which broke numerous heat records.”

One doesn’t have to be a weather professional to see that they can’t both be right—even about the underlying science:

“El Nino and La Nina are different stages in a cyclical pattern of climate turbulence in the Pacific. While El Nino usually brings higher rainfall, La Nina brings cooler sea temperatures, high atmospheric pressure and drier air. Strong winds blow moisture away making for cloudless skies and dry conditions in equatorial countries from the International Date Line east to South America.” [emphasis added]
“The La Nina weather pattern has been warming oceans in the Pacific and warm oceans guarantee rain.” [emphasis added]
The Herald provided no explanation for the two diametrically opposed forecasts, nor did they ask Niwa for comment on this contradiction. As a result, readers are left with a “WTF?” feeling, having absolutely no idea who or what to believe.

Personally, I tend to put more credence in Niwa, whose job it is to research and understand weather and climate issues and science. Maybe I’m not alone in that: Weather Watch’s chief analyst, Philip Duncan, told the Herald: "It looks like there will be an end to their drought early in the new year. But, I would recommend that they still prepare for a drought to be on the safe side."

This sort of thing undermines the credibility of a newspaper because it confuses readers, leaving them unsure who or what to believe. C’mon, NZ Herald: WTF?!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Creepier and creepier

It takes a lot to shock me. I’ve been on the Internet since the mid-1990s, so there’s not much I can even imagine that would truly shock me. And then today, through a convoluted path (including a stop here) that only the Internet can produce, I saw this:
“Lee Harvey Oswald's Original Pine Coffin That Held His Body From His Burial — Very First Time Offered for Sale”
I’m not at all squeamish, nor frightened by death, but the photos of the deteriorated pine coffin—shown along with photos of Oswald in it in 1963—gave me pause. It’s:
“Accompanied by a Letter of Authenticity by Funeral Director Allen Baumgardner, who assisted at the original embalming of Lee Harvey Oswald and later purchased the Miller Funeral Home along with all of its property.”
Okay, then. But, um, why? Why would anyone want it? It did occur to me that one could cut it up into smaller pieces and sell those to collectors of JFK memorabilia, but I can’t imagine what else one could do with it, since it’s not intact.

I’m not posting the photos because they’re, well, a little too creepy, even for me. But if you want to see them, follow the link to the auction, above. If you’re interested in the coffin, you may also be interested in the auction for a “Section of the Leather Seat Upon Which JFK & the First Lady Sat When He Was Shot — With Letter of Provenance — ‘…The spots on the leather are the dried blood of our beloved President John F. Kennedy…’”

I guess there’s a market for almost anything—Apparently With A Capital Letter For Nearly Every Word.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Weekend Diversion: 'Candlelight'

Someone on Twitter (I’ve forgotten who) pointed me to this video by The Maccabeats (the name is funny in itself). I thought it was fun and silly: “I flip my latkes in the air sometimes.” Plus, since I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned anything related to Chanukah on this blog, I thought I may as well start with a light-hearted video.

Update: When I fixed the embed code or this video, I found out about the video they based their video on.

Democrats must stand firm on taxes

Among the greatest lies told by the Republican Party is their deliberately dishonest campaign to cut the taxes of millionaires and billionaires. Republicans successfully spun the debate, as they always do, to make a lie a truth: They said that if the Bush tax cuts weren’t renewed in their entirety, it would mean a “massive tax increase” and they declared that President Obama was going to “raise people’s taxes”.

The truth, of course, is that under the Democratic plan, ALL AMERICANS will get a tax cut on the first $200,000 (or $250,000 for a married couple) in income. But the rich and super rich won’t get additional tax cuts on their high incomes.

The Republican lie worked in the last election campaign, and they were able to regain control of the US House and some state legislatures based on their mantra of “fiscal conservatism”. Yeah, right, like Republicans know anything about that.

The Republican Patron Saint™ is Ronald Reagan, who the party constantly holds up as an idol to be worshiped. Yet he and his economic policies—“Reagonomics”—did more to damage America, more to rip out its economic heart, than anything I can think of. Reagan increased the deficit by 186% and widened the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans to the largest gap since 1947 when such records were first kept.

And what did Reaganomics do for America? Nothing, unless you mean the richest Americans, because they were the only ones who benefited at all. Because of Reagan’s tax cuts, the richest 1% of Americans saw their income soar by 80% during the Reaganomics years. Average Americans, however, saw their incomes rise by a mere 3%—flat, in other words. And the poorest Americans saw their incomes DROP 4% because of Reaganomics. Millions of jobs were lost and average wages declined. Some legacy.

All the data—historic and contemporary—is clear: Cutting taxes for the rich and super rich will get the country nothing but more debt, more jobs lost, falling average wages and greater income inequality. That’s what happened when Reagan pursued “trickle down economics” (“voodoo economics”, as the first President Bush famously called it). Cutting the taxes of ordinary Americans, on the other hand, as Democrats want to do, has been proven to stimulate the economy, something the Republicans claim they want to do.

Enough is enough: It’s time to stand up to the Republicans and their lies. Congress must allow the Bush cuts for the rich and super rich to expire. If they don’t, and pass a bill with tax cuts for the rich, then President Obama must veto the bill.

The illustration accompanying this post is intended to remind Democrats of what they need. We’ll soon see how many actually have one.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Quote of the Day: On Illinois’ new civil unions

“…I still can't see how civil unions diminish my family or even dampen my Christmas spirit. It seems Scrooge-like to argue that I've got civil rights and don't want to share them with others. I admit to feeling a bit cheated when I buy a coffee maker and three months later see the same model selling for $10 cheaper. But that doesn't make that first cup coming out of my old coffee maker weaker.

“Giving gays rights concerning adoptions, decisions about health care and estate planning, as well as other benefits granted in heterosexual marriages, doesn't weaken marriage. My wife and I didn't feel so much as a rumble in our marriage foundation when our lesbian friends had to travel out of state to get married because Illinois was behind the times. I'd argue that their faithful devotion, support and love for each other even strengthened our marriage by giving us another happy and strong family example to emulate.

“Before I can put this column to bed (where I trust it will not engage in any acts that will weaken my future columns), an e-mail from the Liberty Counsel warns that, despite the opinion of our military, gays are out to ruin our armed forces.

“I don't get that argument, either. But when a gay military person from Illinois dies in battle, it would be nice if the flag that represents his ultimate sacrifice could be handed to the partner he loves.”

Burt Constable, a columnist for the Daily Herald, which serves the predominantly Republican area surrounding Chicago, commenting on the newly-passed bill to allow civil unions in Illinois. The paper had earlier editorialised in support of the bill.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Flashback: People Are People

My favourite music era is the 1980s which, given my age, makes sense. Among my favourite bands from that era was Depeche Mode, and this song was one I especially liked. However, I don’t remember ever seeing the video back in the day. Nevertheless, the song seems especially appropriate, given what I’m feeling these days.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Well done, Illinois!!

Today the Illinois State Senate passed a bill to create civil unions by a vote of 32-24. Yesterday, the Illinois House of Representatives approved the measure 61-52. The bill now goes to Governor Pat Quinn, who has pledged to sign it into law. He visited the floor of both Houses to show his support for the measure.

I wrote about this a week ago, and said it was “a separate-but-fully-equal marriage-like legal arrangement”. Put another way, the new civil unions are in the “everything but the word ‘marriage’” category of civil unions, much like New Zealand and other places.

However, this is not marriage, which is reserved for opposite-sex couples alone (civil unions will be open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike). So, while this is an important step toward gay and lesbian equality in Illinois, it’s only a step. When same-sex couples are allowed to choose between civil unions and marriage, just as opposite-sex couples will now be able to do, then Illinois will achieve equality in relationship law, but not until then.

In the meantime, this is a very important step for same-sex couples in Illinois who will finally have legal recognition of their relationships without having to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to draft piles of documents that may not be recognised, anyway (as, for example, by hospitals).

What I found interesting about this debate is how the far right exposed the inherent anti-gay hatred they possess. They long said they were opposed only to same-sex marriage—remember when the people backing California’s Prop 8 used to claim that? Yeah, it’s getting hard to remember those halcyon days.

The rightwing is now quite open in declaring that there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships whatsoever. Their stated reasons/excuses vary, but the reality of their hatred for gay people is obvious.

Which is why I like the video above so much. Illinois State Senator Ricky Herndon tells it like is, which is in itself unusual for a politician, but even more so because he calls out the folks who opposed the measure—including some in his own party.

State Senator James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat who is now running for Mayor, in addition to being a preacher, voted against the bill—the only African American Senator to do so. His reasons were the same as for religious nutcase and rightwing extremist Bill Brady, the Republican who very nearly was inflicted on Illinois as its Governor. Very strange bedfellows.

On the other hand, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford, who was elected state treasurer last month, voted for civil unions. He was the only Republican in the Senate to do so. A handful of Republicans in the House supported the measure.

Oponents were joined by the usual assortment of Republican-aligned far right and religious groups, including out of state groups like the National Organization for (sic) Marriage. The Catholic Conference of Illinois, which is headed by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, also fought the bill. George, personally interfering in the legislative process, made calls to legislators asking them to oppose the bill.

Illinois has accomplished a lot since Democrats took control of the state government in 2003. In 2005, legislators passed a law protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in jobs and housing—after literally decades of work (of which I was once part).

As an aside, the personal implication of this is interesting. If I were to move back to Illinois with Nigel, our civil union would likely be recognised by the state. However, as I mentioned last week, the new law changes nothing for bi-national same-sex couples, and I still couldn’t sponsor Nigel as my spouse (or civil union partner, if you prefer). But that’s something that not even marriage equality can fix.

Well done, Illinois! Today I’m proud to be one of your native sons.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As we make up, not do

It’s that special time of year again! It begins right after the US celebrates Thanksgiving: Fox “News” channel and its performers start moaning about the “War on Christmas”.

It’s all a crock, of course, with little if any truth in their spin. Sometimes it’s mere exaggeration, but other times the just make it up. It’s all to score political points against liberals, progressives and Democrats, all of whom are cast in the role of the Grinch.

But the official political party of Fox, the Republican Party, is selling an ornament that declares “Happy Holidays” (in the screenshot below). Apparently the GOP has joined the war on Christmas! The performers on Fox will start attacking the Republican Party any day now!

Of course they’ll do no such thing. If it ever came up—and criticism of the Republican Party doesn’t—they’d rationalise it away. Their rules—real or imagined—don’t apply to themselves.

War on Christmas? More like a war on credibility.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Elections have consequences

Moves are being made to repeal marriage equality in New Hampshire, veteran gay journalist Rex Wockner is reporting. As a result of the November elections, Republicans now control both houses of the New Hampshire state legislature with enough votes to override any veto from Democratic Governor John Lynch.

According to Wockner, “Bills already have been filed to repeal the marriage-equality law and to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.” The newly elected Speaker of the House, Republican State Rep. Bill O'Brien, is described as “a staunch opponent of marriage equality.”

New Hampshire’s marriage equality, which took effect on January 1 of this year, was passed in June 2009. At the moment, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington, D.C. also have marriage equality.

This is why I warned up to this month that elections have consequences: By staying home or not voting Democratic, fair-minded voters may have set back the struggle for GLBT equality in New Hampshire by 20 years or more. Voters’ excuses for not voting are looking more lame, childish—and incredibly selfish—every day. Those who vowed to “punish” Democrats look even more pathetic and stupid than they did before the elections.

Elections—all elections—have consequences.

Fast away the old tech passes

These days, technology needs frequent updates. If we’re lucky, we get a few years out of a device before whatever it’s designed to do for us can’t be done on that device.

Cellphones are a good example: Analogue became digital became 3G and beyond. Old phones can’t work in the new world. I’ve had five cellphones in my life, and I’ve just moved on to my sixth which, compared to some, is a positively glacial pace of change.

On November 12, 1998, I bought my first cellphone, a PrePay on the Vodafone network (which they’d recently purchased from BellSouth). At the time, it was both New Zealand’s only pre-pay plan and the country’s only digital network.

I stayed on prepay for twelve years because throughout that time my needs didn’t really change, and what I wrote back in 1998 was true for those 12 years:

“…I hardly ever actually NEED a cellphone, but… when I do need a phone, I really need a phone. It seemed silly, though, to sign up for a plan when my needs are so limited right now.”

Throughout that time, I used my phone so little that I probably averaged no more than NZ$10 a month. All I did was receive calls and send the occasional text; I hardly ever made a call. That couldn’t last.

Last year, I got Nigel’s iPod Touch as a hand-me-up when he got an iPhone. I played with it a bit, and found it was really handy for accessing the Internet over our home WiFi network (or public ones, where available). However, it requires WiFi to connect, has no camera or ability to record sound—all useful for the social media stuff I do. But it’s the need for a WiFi connection that was the main problem: A lot of useful information is stuff for mobile devices/smartphones, everything from traffic reports to movie times to Google maps, and none of that was accessible on the iPod Touch without a WiFi connection.

My phone, meanwhile, was 3G, but had limited functionality. For example, because it was a prepay, I couldn’t use it to pay for public parking (meters took cash—which I seldom have—or one could pay by cellphone—provided it wasn’t prepay). There are many other vending machines that allow payment by text, with more sure to follow.

So I was increasingly left out, or left behind, by having a basic phone that did nothing but make and receive calls. That’s now changed: I have an iPhone on a billed account.

My phone usage is unlikely to change much, truth be known, but mobile data—like email—will be handy. By signing the contract, we saved about $400 off the retail price of a phone, so the increase in my monthly charges will pay for that interest free.

The time had come to move on from my old cellphone world, and to merge that with the useful functionality of my iPod Touch. Somehow, I doubt it’ll be twelve years before my next technological shift.

I was reminded that I actually had one more cellphone, a prepay Virgin Mobile I used while in the US a few years back. I gave that to our niece when she when there a few months later, but it's now no longer usable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Enemies agreeing, and wrong

Something that’s fascinated me in recent weeks is how America’s political left and political right essentially agree on some issues, though often for different reasons and with different objectives. Until yesterday, however, I didn’t realise the bailout of GM was one of those issues.

The video above is a commercial GM ran thanking American taxpayers for saving them. It’s an effective ad. Over on Joe.My.God., where I saw this, the comments from the left end of the spectrum were illuminating.

I’d always known the right was opposed to the bailouts. It was “socialism”, they declared. But it turns out the leftists were just as opposed because it was “fascism”. Now, it’s a fair bet that the vast majority of people throwing around those words have no idea what they mean, but there’s an element of truth in both viewpoints—a very small kernel of truth, but one big enough for them to hang on.

The bailout of GM was socialistic in that it was a government takeover of a means of production—but we’re talking one company, not en entire industry, so it was not socialist. Similarly, it was fascistic because it was government policy being used to advance business interests—but it was done through loans and equity investment in one company which is not what fascists do.

So, the hyperbole of both the left and the right is wrong—and utterly daft, if we’re honest. Even crazier is the rhetoric shared by both the left and the right: GM should have been left to fail. The left and the right actually have a shared reason for saying that, namely, that government shouldn’t bail out private business.

The right thinks that the company should have been allowed to fail so it would “break” the unions (never mind that their power has been declining for decades). The left feels that it should have been allowed to fail because saving it only benefited the corporate elites (never mind the ripple effects through the economy that would have affected mainstream, ordinary Americans).

The truth is that if GM had failed, it probably would’ve taken the entire US auto industry with it. Its suppliers would’ve failed, making it almost impossible for Ford to locate parts, endangering Ford, which was trading at the “junk bond” level at the time.

Had GM failed, its workers would’ve stopped buying. Stores and services would’ve failed. As GM’s suppliers failed, their workers would stop buying and more stores and services would’ve failed—and on and on and on. These workers would’ve gone on a benefit, taking from the economy, not adding to it. It would almost certainly have pushed the severe recession into a depression. US unemployment remains stubbornly high—can anyone seriously argue that adding tens—or hundreds—of thousands of workers to the unemployment lines would’ve been a good idea? Well, yeah, that’s basically what the left and the right still argue.

All things considered, the GM bailout was the cheapest option available to the government. The US taxpayer now owns a minority of GM, after its recent successful stock offering and re-listing. In the end, taxpayers will at least break even on the investment, maybe make a profit. That’s good news, but you won’t hear the left or the right celebrating it.

Sometimes, it seems, political point-scoring is more important than simple humanity.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Another expat Thanksgiving

American expats have many different experiences of their holidays, depending on where they are. Thanksgiving is one, I can attest, that many Kiwis just don’t get. Mind you, I understand: Thanksgiving is a harvest holiday referencing another country’s mythology. In New Zealand, it’s Spring and the historical references are irrelevant.

And, yet: It’s Thanksgiving! I’ve often tried to keep the traditions alive, but it always seems to get hot just when it’s time to do the roasted dinner. Not such a good idea, really.

Today I roasted a turkey—a real turkey, not just a fake roll. I also made a pumpkin pie (using tinned pumpkin, of course). The result was mixed.

The turkey was frozen (it’s hard to find fresh turkey, in my experience) and ended up moist and nice—but tasting nothing like an American turkey. I have no idea if that’s because of the additives in American turkeys (NZ ones have none) or if New Zealand turkeys are just different. I have no frame of reference! I can’t say whether NZ turkeys are more pure or if US ones are totally fake; all I can say is that my NZ turkey was different.

The pie was another matter. The filling was fine (it’s hard to screw that up), but the pastry was too hard. The thing is, a family member is gluten intolerant, so I made gluten-free pastry—and I’d never made any sort of pie pastry before. Let’s just say, it was an incomplete success.

The meal, on the whole, was nice and enjoyed by all. Still, it was HOT as I was making dinner. I think I may skip it—and the heat—next year.

The larger issue is celebrating a US holiday in another country. Many of us find a way, even though the country we’re in doesn’t have any connection to it—or even understand it. We find a way and sometimes, like this year, it’s good.