Friday, April 30, 2010

Democracy—if convenient

A little noticed incident shows that to the New Zealand National Party, democracy is something to be endured and tolerated, but also something to be dismissed if it gets in the way of corporate interests.

Agriculture Minister David Carter said of the National Party-led Government’s usurping of democracy in Canterbury, "I would have thought what happened recently with Environment Canterbury would be a signal to all regional councils to work a bit more constructively with their farmer stakeholders."

What Carter revealed is that the reason the National-led Government usurped democracy in Canterbury is that it didn’t do as farmers dictated. Don’t like cow shit in you water? Tough! Clearly the National Party thinks cow shit in the water is more important than democracy.

The National Party has desperately tried to spin their usurpation of democracy as being “necessary” when the evidence clearly shows it was only done to advance the interests of farmers. That begs the question: What else will offend the National Party enough to cause them to end democracy? Are ANY of use safe?

Holy Crist

When I heard that Florida Governor Charlie “Closet Case” Crist was out, I thought, finally! Then I found out that he was only out of Florida’s Republican US Senate primary (leaving it to the teabagger, who was going to win anyway because Crist hugged President Obama). Um, awkward…

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Roadshow weary

Yesterday I attended the latest Adobe Creative Suite Roadshow, this one touting version 5 of their industry-standard graphic design suite. The event itself left me completely underwhelmed, even if the software itself has some attractive features. I doubt I’ll attend another.

I’ve been attending these Adobe events for many, many years. In the early days, they did “Tips and Tricks” shows with the days clearly broken up into various strata: Print design on one, web in another, for example. One could register for one or more depending on interest, time, etc. This was great for folks who couldn’t take a whole day off or who simply didn’t want to sit through discussion of software they’d never use because they or their employer didn’t do that sort of work. Although the purpose of the shows was clearly to provide a reason for users to upgrade to the latest version of Adobe’s software, attendees got a lot of useful information.

Things aren’t as customer-friendly anymore. Around the time Adobe introduced Creative Suite, it switched to the current Roadshow format. One must now register for the entire day and can’t find out the agenda until one shows up for the 9am registration. The event goes on until 4:30pm, with an hour for lunch from 1pm to 2pm. It’s a long day.

Last time and this time, the morning was taken first with video (Adobe Premier and After Effects), which, while sometimes interesting, was of no relevance to me: I don’t do professional video and won’t be buying that software unless I win Lotto. About this time I was thinking I was wasting a day.

The morning break came next. Every Adobe event I’ve ever been to offered tea and coffee to attendees—but not this time. Maybe they saw it as cutting costs, I saw it as a miserly and misguided move that pissed me off: They wanted me to spend up to $1500 to upgrade my software, but they couldn’t be bothered to give me a small cup of coffee?

The next session was all about Flash, really, with references to general web design using Dreamweaver. I’ve never done anything in Flash, and it’s highly improbable I will, except maybe for some playing around. Still, their Flash Catalyst sounded interesting in that it promises to allow designers like me to create Flash elements without knowing how to write code. I don’t know that I’d ever use it, though.

Next came lunch, and I hightailed it out of there. I seriously thought about flagging the rest of the day—the morning had been such a waste. But, I went back (the afternoon was about the software I use). I was a little late getting back (not that I minded). InDesign has a few tweaks here and there, a few changes, but nothing earth shattering. Photoshop’s main tweaks were a really cool content-aware fill that will absolutely make removing elements from photos easier (if it works in the real world as well as in the demos), and a new “puppet” tool that allows elements in photos to be re-positioned.

Overall, the main changes are that Creative Suite is now 64-bit, to maximise use of both the latest Macintosh and Windows operating systems. They said that Photoshop was completely rewritten to make it 64-bit. All of which is good. This change is really what justifies calling this a new version—if it can be called that at all.

Based on features alone, this is more of a version tweak, it seemed to me, than a new version; but if it can be called that, what about version 4? Despite my initial enthusiasm for version 4, I came to believe that it was really just an enhancement of version 3, and didn’t deserve to be considered—and charged as—a complete upgrade. Anecdotally, I’ve heard many users saw version 4 the same way I did, especially considering it came out during the recession, and it was not a success (a show of hands revealed about a third of attendees were using version 4—half of them if you’re really optimistic—the rest, like me, were using version 3 or below).

Despite being underwhelmed, I’ll be upgrading not because of the new features, nice as some of them are, but because if I don’t, I’ll have to buy the whole thing over again (at 2 to 3 times the upgrade price) when version 6 comes out next year; okay, that’s a bit sarcastic, Adobe may wait a bit longer, but it's been using the far-too-frequent upgrade model to get customers to buy upgrades over and over and over. I know they need to make money, and they’re selling to a mature, saturated market, but they really need to stop calling mere tweaks “upgrades” and using that to justify charging high upgrade prices. We’re customers, not cash cows.

I also noticed that the Apple iPad was never mentioned even once, and the iPhone only once, even though Adobe kept pushing the importance of making designs usable on mobile devices (the only phone specifically mentioned by them was Google’s). This is apparently because iPads don’t support Flash. Adobe has its knickers in a twist over that, when it really ought to be more concerned that changes to the HTML language may very well make Flash obsolete. Print designers, who need to produce publications readable on mobile devices, need help, support and advice from Adobe, not casual dismissal because the company’s pissed off with Apple.

As for the Roadshow itself, it’s been in decline for years. I remember a time there were tables and tables of vendors selling related products, software upgrades and more. This time, there were four: Wacom (with a couple high-end tablets on display), Renaissance/Magnum Mac (selling upgrades for ordinary users at nearly $1600—easily $500 higher than other sellers in New Zealand), Telecom NZ subsidiary Gen-I (they had display boxes of Adobe software, but I was unclear what they were doing there), and a company selling software and laptops to students/teachers. There was nobody offering “show specials” (apart, maybe from the student/teacher versions), and only one vendor flyer (from Wacom) was in the cheap bags handed out to attendees (same bags as last year). In fact, Adobe didn’t even bother to put a copy of the agenda into the bags this year, and instead taped a couple copies on the wall.

This is not a positive review because Adobe gave me very little to be positive about. The day was long, offered me nothing of any real value or any information that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere, including from videos on their own site. It’s unlikely I’ll attend one of these Roadshows again, and not even offering a small free cup of coffee could change that.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tweet me well

Recently, I read on our friends’ business blog that our local butcher was using Facebook to interact with customers. Since I was already a customer, I decided to log onto Facebook and “like” their page (“like” having replaced “become a fan”; neither one seems quite right to me, but I digress).

There’s one slight problem with this arrangement: I very seldom log into Facebook (it bores me silly), so I don’t see what they post. I also don’t subscribe to their newsletter, so I never know about upcoming specials.

For me, it would be far more efficient if they used Twitter to tell me about specials. I follow a few businesses on Twitter, most of them because they asked to follow me. I added a fast food restaurant we like because I thought it was funny, but they never Tweet anything.

How much promotion on Twitter would be too much? I don’t know, but all the folks I follow on Twitter have one thing in common: I get something of value from the connection. It could be simple interaction with friends, or it could be interesting or thought-provoking comments from people I don’t know, or maybe links to interesting articles, websites or YouTube videos. It can also be news, not just from journalists, but especially from ordinary people writing about news events they’re experiencing (like a rally, for example).

A business like my local butcher should respect that many people are competing for my attention on Twitter. They would have to post often enough that I might actually see it, and then offer something rewarding, like an announcement of a special (especially a secret one that people have to give a code to get!). They could post a link to something they just posted on their site, too (like, for my butcher, a new recipe).

However, they shouldn’t post so much that they’re competing with friends or other interesting people. What I definitely don’t want is the sort of banality I sometimes see from other Twitter users (imagine: “I was late for morning tea. I had a lot of chicken blood to wash off.” Or maybe, “OMG! Someone just ordered 50kg of sausages!”). That offers me nothing of value; I’ll tolerate that sort of thing from friends or people who are otherwise interesting, but probably not from a business wanting to market to me over Twitter.

To me, the beauty of them using Twitter is that I can opt-in and choose to follow. If I don’t want to be bothered anymore, I can always un-follow, and much more easily than unsubscribing from an e-newsletter. Besides, Twitter is the ultimate amalgamator of information on the web, so it makes sense that local businesses should use it, too.

So, local businesses, if you want to market to me through Twitter, respect my time and attention and offer me something of value. In other words, Tweet me well.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flags and friends

From AmeriNZ

For the first time in nearly three years, another country’s flag will fly on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. In observance of Anzac Day, both the NZ and Australian flags will fly on the bridge.

I think that the policy banning other countries’ flags from flying on the bridge is silly, and I’ve thought that ever since the policy was announced. Still, if an exception is to be made, this is the day to do it, and the country to do it for.

When racism becomes law

In the past, when filmmakers wanted to convey the horror of living in a fascist state, they’d have Nazi (or sometimes Soviet) guards order “Papers, please. Papers!” Now they can depict Arizona police instead.

In the single most racist act a state has done in my adult life, Arizona has made it an Arizona state crime to be in the US illegally and authorised police to demand to see proof of citizenship or legal residence of anyone they, in their sole judgement, think may not be in the US legally—like because they “don’t look right,” obviously.

Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law today, claimed—with a straight face—that there would be no racial profiling of suspected illegals. She must think we’re all more stupid than she is, or incredibly gullible or both.

Of course Arizona police will deliberately target Hispanics—those are the people the bill was aimed at! Polls show that Arizonans are “angry” about illegals in their state, and those illegal residents come from Mexico. The whole point of the bill was to remove Mexicans who are in Arizona illegally.

The Obama Administration has pledged to use every legal move to have the new law struck down, which shouldn’t be too hard: It’s blatantly unconstitutional. Under the Constitution, only the US Government has authority over immigration. It will also lead to civil rights violations against “Mexican-looking” US citizens and permanent residents who will be targeted by police, something that’s also forbidden by the Constitution.

Brewer signed the illegal law because she’s in a tough re-election fight and she needed to pander to the Republican base, the teabaggers in particular. I hope she loses in a landslide.

But until the law is struck down, I have a modest proposal that will make it fair for all: All Arizonans leaving the state, without exception, should have to prove they’re citizens or legal residents. Arizonans should have to show their passport when they cross the border into another state or board any airplane, even for an in-state flight (because what if it’s forced to make an emergency landing in another state?). Arizonans should also be required to show their passport before checking into any hotel in any other state.

If the point of the law was really to weed out illegal residents, then surely Arizonans won’t mind proving they’re legal any time they do anything anywhere in the US, surely they won’t mind having to prove themselves constantly. If Arizonans don’t like that, they can always demand their state legislature repeal this heinous law.

At least filmmakers will be happy. When they want to show life in a police state, there’ll be no need for foreign locations now; all they’ll have to do is depict an Arizona cop demanding “Papers, please. Papers!”

I took the liberty of updating Arizona’s welcome sign for them (photo above). I thought they’d want to get the word out as quickly as possible.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The long and winding road

The final stretch of State Highway One has been sealed: The final 100 metres was sealed today, meaning drivers can have a “tarsealed ride from one end of the country to the other for the first time.”

State Highway One is a big deal: Its 2022km crosses the length of the country. I suppose it makes sense to call it “the backbone of the country” (never mind that break at Cook Strait). Still, technically, it’s not one end to the other: The highway stops 20km south east of Cape Reinga.

Nevertheless, it’s something of a milestone, as it were, to complete the road. And it’s an interesting reminded to me of the differences between my homeland and my new home.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When education is missing

This video is by New Left Media, who I subscribe to on YouTube (I posted another of their videos last November). This video shows the teabagger folks saying things that are flat out wrong, often stupid and even alarming.

The video above was shot at the “tax day” protest in Washington, DC. The right will no doubt make excuses for itself by saying that these folks aren’t “typical” of the teabgaggers at the rally. What they don’t get is that it doesn’t matter: The people depicted are at least typical enough of teabaggers to show what the problem with them is: They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

“Do you know that President Obama is considering banning fishing in America? Fishing!” one woman in the video declared. She’s not alone in her bizarre stupidity: People in this video know nothing about reality—US history, the US Constitution or anything even remotely connected to public policy. ALL they can do is parrot Fox “News” talking points over and over, uncritically and without any understanding of what they’re saying. You can see that when they’re pressed on the talking point they just spouted and can’t say anything.

Their statements on taxes are a good example. The fact is, 95-98% of all working Americans did get a tax reduction. That’s a fact anyone can look up. It’s not a matter of opinion, something one can disagree with, any more than one can “disagree” that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen. All they have to do is look up facts somewhere—anywhere—other than Fox.

What I think this shows the most clearly is the result of decades of under-investment in education in America. Because of that, ill-informed opinion, or deliberate disinformation, can now pass for fact and truth. Science has become a dirty word and something not to be “believed”. The whole paradigm of knowledge itself has been transformed into a commodity to be packaged and sold by Fox to a public untrained and ill-prepared to tell the difference between propaganda and truth and between facts and nonsense.

Whenever I see one of these teabagger rallies, and see or hear them speak, I think of the famous quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit.” (“There is nothing more terrible than ignorance in action.”) The ignorance these teabaggers display is terrible—and dangerous.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heartless insult added to injury

We’ve heard a lot about planes grounded in Europe, and the chaos that’s caused. The news has shown folks camping in New York City’s JFK airport, among others.

People have been stranded in many countries, including New Zealand. However, Immigration New Zealand decided to make things even worse for folks stranded here: If their visitor’s visas have expired, these stranded people are being forced to extend their visitor’s visa by ten days—after paying $120, cash or credit card accepted.

Maybe the Immigration Act doesn’t give INZ any leeway to wave the fee, even in extraordinary circumstances like these. However, I bet the Immigration Minister has discretion. So, how about it, Jonathan Coleman? Why not help these weary travellers feel a little better about New Zealand? Or, do you even care?

Update: Immigration New Zealand has done the right thing:

"People who have been forced to delay their flights to Europe should contact us to discuss their situation, if they need further permits to be in New Zealand while they reschedule their travel plans. Immigration New Zealand will waive the fees required for such people to extend their visas or permits.

"If you have already paid for a further visa or permit in the last few days please contact us as you may be eligible for a refund of those fees."

Tip o' the Hat to Reed who provided the link to this in the comments to this post.

Indigenous rights, secrecy wrong

Today the NZ Government reversed policy and backed a United Nations resolution on the rights of indigenous people. When the resolution was adopted back in September 2008, four countries voted no: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States—all countries trying to resolve issues with their indigenous people.

The National Party-led government signalled nearly a year ago that it would back the resolution. Back then, Prime Minister John Key said it was “an aspirational, non-binding declaration.” That’s important because the resolution was mandating special accommodation to indigenous peoples. Today, Key said the move was “just another symbolic sign”.

So, the government thinks the move is purely symbolic and of no real practical consequence. Then why was it necessary to send Pita Sharples to New York in secret? Whatever the merits of this endorsement, the secrecy just feels wrong. John Key owes us a full explanation.

Update: The neoconservative Act Party is pissed off at John Key. They hate this whole thing, declaring that Key was "naive in the extreme" to suggest it would have no practical effect. They also said the secret move violated the no-surprises clause of the confidence and supply agreement with the Act Party. But party leader Rodney Hide predictably declared their agreement isn't in trouble. Of course he'd say that. He knows damn well that if an election were held now, Act would probably cease to exist, so he has to stick with National no matter what—it's the only way they'll ever be part of government (and they probably won't even be in Parliament after the 2011 elections).

Separate is inherently unequal

This video is by Sean Chapin, one of the folks I subscribe to on YouTube. He tells the story of Clay, 77, and Harold, 88. They were a gay couple together for 20 years until Harold fell. The government of Sonoma County, California, then ripped the couple apart and took everything they owned, despite the couple having all the documents in place that were supposed to prevent that from happening—everything, that is, but a marriage.

Three months later, Harold died in a nursing home. Clay was kept from Harold for those last months. They lost everything they’d had, Clay lost his love and he lost his dignity, all because separate is not equal.

Many people on the far right, trying to conceal their anti-gay bigotry, say there’s no need for any legal recognition of same sex couples, that all they need are a few documents to secure their rights and property. This case, the Janice Langbehn case and others, show why that argument is false. But, then, the religious right knows that it’s not true; they're betting that mainstream Americans will buy the deliberate lies.

Civil unions in the US are too new to know if they’ll offer any more protection than a fistful of worthless legal documents, but in every state they’ve been enacted, the clear intent was to create something inferior to marriage. It’s hard to imagine that any of them, including the much-hyped one in Washington State, will offer anything more than a handful of the hundreds of rights and privileges that are automatically conveyed by marriage.

In the United States, the only thing that conveys full legal equality for couples is marriage—nothing else. In the US, separate is NOT equal—don’t we all know that by now? Actually, we do, but religious extremists lie about it in order to force their will on everyone else. It’s time the US stopped accommodating bigots, started caring about people and finally acted according to a simple truth: Separate is inherently unequal.

I originally read about this story last week over at Joe.My.God.

Monday, April 19, 2010

WTF or pwnd?

One of the best things about the Internet Age is the rapid access to information. One of the worst things is that it’s often very difficult to tell if something is true or not. This is one of those times.

There is—apparently—a new right wing media network starting up called “Right Network” (usually one word). Now, I thought the name was a bit suspect, and their “Company Overview” is so over the top that it had to be a joke (you can find a copy at Crooks and Liars).

Their TV programming “…focuses on entertainment with Pro-America, Pro-Business, Pro-Military sensibilities—compelling content that inspires action, invites a response, and influences the national conversation.” That’s what Fox “News” is and, really, the others, too: They’re all owned by corporations, after all, and not even liberal-ish MSNBC is anti-war. So, a joke, right?

What about their mission: “to entertain, engage and enlighten Americans who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and worldview” [emphasis added]. That’s what we liberals say about Fox—so, it’s a joke, right?

Their web page (at rightnetwork.com which you’ll have to copy and paste; I don’t link to wingnut sites, and this could be real) features videos with the frankly proto-fascist “Right Anthem” and spokesperson Kelsey Grammer, among others. Kelsey’s a comedy actor, so it’s a joke, right?

Back to the Company Overview. Said Comcast-Spectator’s Chairman, Ed Snider, “We’re creating a welcome place for millions and millions of Americans who’ve been looking for an entertainment network and media channel that reflects their point-of-view. RIGHTNETWORK will be the perfect platform to entertain, inform and connect with the American majority [sic] about what’s right in the world.” Snider is a conservative of the Ayn Rand style, as are many of the teabagger leaders. But Comcast-Spectator, a subsidiary of Comcast, is primarily a sports and entertainment company. So: WTF, then?

Kesley Grammer, A Republican who campaigned for John McCain, says: “RightNetwork is filling a big gap with entertainment programs that combine compelling content with a perspective we don’t generally get from the media. We’re bringing outstanding talent and production values to our television, internet and mobile platforms. I’m proud to be part of this team!”

Their YouTube Channel has a lot of videos promoting the teabaggers and they’ve been allied with one of the teabagger astroturf groups. That’s kinda real. One of their supposed programmes is a reality show called “Running” where they follow teabagger candidates for Congress.

Comcast itself is the largest cable operator and largest home Internet service provider in the US. It’s in the middle of an effort to take over NBC, which, if successful, will make it the largest media company in the US, and possibly the world. Among other things, that would give it control over MSNBC, the only network with anything resembling liberal programming. It’s also been argued that it could mean the end of free-to-air television in the US as it and Fox take their programming to pay-TV only.

If Comcast fails in its bid to take over NBC, it’ll need someone to handle production of programming for the new network, which is likely where Comcast-Spectator fits in.

Comcast is also one of the largest corporate opponents of “Net Neutrality”, which requires Internet companies to treat all data traffic equally. Not only has Comcast fought that politically, it’s also been caught throttling traffic it doesn’t like, redirecting traffic to pages it controls, and other non-neutral offences. If they use their network for programming dedicated to only one point of view, and also make it difficult or impossible for their customers to get alternative views or even fact-check Comcast’s offerings, then there’s a clear and present danger to democracy.

In the US media, Conservatives already outnumber Liberals by 3 to 1 (20-1 on talk radio). They also have Fox, which is nothing but a 24-hour far right propaganda channel. Why on earth would they need another network?

So, I don’t know if it’s real or a sick joke. If America’s really being punk’d by some conservatives who think it’s funny to get liberals and moderates worried over a threat to democracy, that’s pretty sick and twisted. But it’s no less sick and twisted if it’s real.

Update: Comcast has issued a statement denying any connection to Right Network: "The blog reports that Comcast is an investor in, or partner of the Right Network are inaccurate. We have no partnership with this venture and have no plans to launch or distribute the network. As we have done with hundreds of other content providers, we have met with the network’s representatives. We do carry a number of independent networks on Comcast representing a wide variety of interests and diverse viewpoints."

The New York Times' "Media Decoder", in a slightly bitchy swipe at the "Huffington Post", implied the site didn't check the connection with Comcast, yet provides no evidence to support their assumption. However, they do add a plausible explanation for the endorsement and involvement by Ed Snider, the chairman of Comcast-Spectacor: "Mr. Snider is apparently a personal investor in RightNetwork, separate from Comcast." Unlike the "Huffington Post", the New York Times didn't state what the source of its claim was.

So, the network is real. It may not be entirely honest, however, and that just isn't right.

Update 2: RightNetwork failed to secure funding or distribution and ceased operations in September, 2011. It was completely unrelated to Right Side Broadcasting, which was founded in 2015.

Tips o' the Hat to Simon and Roger for the links to updated information in the first update.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Accent angst

Growing up in America, I was sometimes unable to understand my fellow citizens when they were speaking. Regional accents are a fact of life in the US, and that makes for endless jokes and the occasional misunderstanding.

My own regional accent was once taught to broadcasters as the most “universal” variant of American English. Of course, once I moved to New Zealand, that changed everything.

Once I arrived here, I was often amused by some Kiwis’ reactions to NZ accents. I’ve heard tut-tutting and been able to almost feel the hand-wringing as worrywarts complained the New Zealand accent was “becoming unintelligible”. And when I say “amused” I really mean that I often laughed out loud at their pompous buffoonery.

I mean, crikey! What’s wrong with people being true to their own culture? There’s no such thing as a “correct” accent or dialect. As long as people can be understood, more or less, particular variations don’t much matter.

Deborah Coddington thinks Kiwis should learn to speak properly, that the standard of on-air speech, diction in particular, is awful. “If they were print journalists and wrote that way, they'd be taken aside by the sub-editors and retrained, so why are they cruelly shoved in front of the cameras by their bosses and allowed to make the same mistakes?”

As far as I can tell, Coddington is a lifelong curmudgeon. In and out of journalism over the years, she was also an unsuccessful candidate for the Libertarianz Party (of course, the phrase “unsuccessful candidate for the Libertarianz Party” is completely self-evident; they’re among the most perpetually deeply also-ran of the also-ran parties). From 2002-2005 she was a list MP for the neoconservative Act Party, which sometimes likes to think of itself as libertarian.

To me, the tone in all her articles has been grumpy. One I didn’t read, "Asian Angst", earned a rebuke from the New Zealand Press Council for her talk of “Asian" crime, a “gathering crime tide” and an “Asian menace”. The magazine that published the article, North & South, was ordered to print an apology, which Coddington called “pathetic.” Yeah, well, she would.

Now she has angst over accents. Her subject this time isn’t just accents: It’s also content, but mixed with so much talk of speaking style that it’s all a muddle. Apparently, it was also an excuse for her to fawn over an ex-Libertarianz colleague.

Still, I actually agree with her that the empty, sometimes saccharin, sometimes tabloid-style reporting of meaningless non-stories is a bad and worrying trend among New Zealand’s broadcast media, television news in particular. However, the problem is with what they’re saying, not so much how they’re saying it.

Deborah Coddington needs to lighten up—a lot. I’ve thought that for some sixteen years, since I first heard of her. I’ve seen her on TV and I frankly didn’t find her accent particularly appealing. I guess I just prefer to hear people who both speak naturally and have something interesting to say.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The story behind the hospital story

Yesterday I wrote about President Obama’s Memorandum directing the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure hospitals do not automatically exclude same-sex partners because they’re not “blood relatives”. I pointed out that there were still problems with the memorandum.

The incident that brought attention to all this happened around three years ago. I wrote about it when Janice Langbehn (interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper in the video above) filed a federal suit against Jackson Memorial Hospital, a suit that was dismissed by a judge in September 2009 after the hospital filed a motion arguing it had no obligation to allow anyone into the trauma centre.

Because I’d planned a follow-up to my original post, I asked the hospital to respond to questions raised by the incident. Responding for the hospital in February 2009, then-staff member Robert Alonso said that the hospital had “a very liberal visitation policy. Visitation in the emergency/trauma units of Jackson Memorial Hospital is determined on a case-by-case basis by the charge nurse and/or physician(s) caring for the patient.”

Foreshadowing the hospital’s motion in the lawsuit, he went on: “Visitor access often depends upon the patient's condition and the circumstances within the units at any given time. For safety and security purposes, it may not be possible for visitation to be granted if the units are busy and many life-and-death cases are being handled concurrently.”

The main question raised by the case was whether the hospital treated same-sex partners of patients differently. “Jackson Health System does not define a ‘visitor’ to have any particular characteristics or impose any requirements on that individual,” Alonso said. “Unmarried couples, whether of the opposite-sex or same-sex and all other individuals who have a relationship to the patient are treated equally. No particular documents are required. Documents are only required when medical decisions must be made.”

At the time, the hospital’s "Patient Rights and Responsibilities" said obliquely, "Patients have the right to considerate, respectful care at all times and under all circumstances, with recognition of their personal dignity, psychosocial needs, cultural, spiritual, personal values and belief systems."

In mid 2009, after the hospital met with GLBT leaders in Florida, they agreed to convene a task force “to review and enhance policies and training materials for all JHS hospitals and facilities to ensure that they reflect emerging standards of care for LGBT patients.”

As a result of this process, last week the hospital agreed with GLBT leaders that “providing equal treatment and care for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, or other aspects of personal identity, is of paramount importance in healthcare settings. It creates an environment in which all patients feel safe and comfortable receiving treatment, which results in a higher quality of patient care.”

I’m sure that this review and reform happened specifically because of the treatment that Janice Langbehn received. The hospital never apologised for its actions, denying that they did anything wrong. Instead, President Obama apologised for the appalling treatment that Langbehn received.

So, out of that tragedy good things emerged. First, GLBT people who find themselves under the care of Jackson Memorial Hospital can expect to receive the “equal treatment and care” they should’ve been able to expect all along. More importantly, GLBT people across the US will ultimately be treated better by hospitals wherever they live. That’s quite a legacy for Langbehn’s partner, Lisa.

But by far the best way to prevent any repeat of this sort of thing is for full relationship equality between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. No person dealing with a medical emergency affecting their partner should have to scrounge around for legal documents when a single, easily-identifiable proof of a relationship is possible.

The presidential memorandum may only be a starting step, but it’s an important one. We mustn’t forget that.

I’m a guest who slaps

I was honoured to be asked by my good e-buddy Mark to write another Guest Slap (which is a guest post, btw) for his site, Slap Upside The Head. Slap is one of my most favourite sites on the web, so writing something for it is like being asked to guest host for Keith Olbermann! Well, maybe not, but it’s close. Kinda…

Be sure to check out the rest of the site, um, too!

My first Guest Slap can be found here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good start, but not there yet

President Obama has issued a directive that will require most US hospitals to allow visitation rights to same-sex partners of patients. The devil is in the details, of course.

In order to “enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members” have, same-sex couples will require “legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies)”, documents that are not enforceable in all states. Even where they are enforceable, it will require same-sex couples to go to an attorney and pay legal services fees as well as any filing costs, all to get a pale, vulnerable approximation of what opposite-sex couples get the minute they say “I do” in a marriage ceremony.

So, while this is a fantastic symbolic move, in the end it’s largely empty. Nothing can replace full marriage equality, and this order absolutely doesn’t fill that gap. While I applaud President Obama for setting the correct tone, ultimately it’s up to Democrats in Congress to ignore Republicans and repeal the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act” so that the federal government can start treating legally married same-sex couples equally with legally married opposite-sex married couples.

President Obama is severely limited in what he can do to bring equality to gay and lesbian Americans, but Democrats in Congress are not. What they lack is a spine and the will to use the power they have. President Obama has set the goal: Democrats must now act on it.

Little bits

The New Zealand National Party wants to kill off New Zealand a little bit at a time. That’s the logical conclusion given their recent announcements.

They said they wanted “limited” mining on conservation land, despite the warnings of what that will do to New Zealand’s international image, let alone the natural environment. We’re not supposed to notice how foreign corporations will make out like bandits while our land is pillaged.

Then National said it wants “limited” commercial whaling. There they almost quoted Old National’s mantra of TINA: “There Is No Alternative”. They seriously expect us to believe that the ONLY way to prevent whale slaughter is to allow slaughter of whales. Apparently, National thinks we’re all really, really stupid.

After that, National said it wants to build a prison with private funds and run by a private company because depriving people of liberty for profit is SUCH a good idea, of course. They expect us to believe that corporate-owned prisons—whose very profits depend on having prisoners—will really work to prevent prisoners from re-offending. Yeah, right.

And now National appears poised to act on its plan to privatise schools, too. This will be a developing topic.

This government is among the most radical that New Zealand has seen since the neoconservatives took over the Labour Party in the 1980s (which they did only because it was impossible for them to take over the National Party back then). And yet this is a supposedly “restrained” National Party. The only thing they’re restraining is their plan to sell off everything that’s not nailed down.

When you add up National’s radical agenda, the coming disaster of the Auckland Super City and attacks on ordinary hardworking New Zealanders that we don’t even know about yet, the next election can’t come soon enough.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Remember the past to change the future

Four decades ago, America was a much different place. It’s good to remember that no matter how bad things may seem at any given moment, there was a time they were much, much worse. We should celebrate how far we’ve come, and learn from the past so that we never return to those dark times.

A new documentary, Stonewall Uprising, takes a look at the night that changed everything for GLBT America: On June 28, 1969, New York City police conducted a routine raid on a mafia-owned bar, the Stonewall Inn. That night, for the first time, gay people fought back and the modern gay rights movement was born.

There was, of course, already a reform movement prior to that night, some of it chronicled in the earlier film, “Before Stonewall”. But the three nights of rioting that the 1969 raid touched off is widely regarded as the spark that started everything moving.

The film’s trailer above gives a sense not only of the film, but also the times in which the Stonewall Riots happened. The trailer has one historical inaccuracy, however: A title card says, "In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal throughout the United States." That's actually not true: In 1962, Illinois became the first state to repeal its anti-sodomy laws, nearly a decade before any other state. So, in 1969, homosexual acts were illegal in 49 states.

Illinois certainly wasn’t some sort of paradise: Police still found other ways and reasons to harass GLBT people, whether entrapping them in "prostitution" stings or routine raids of GLBT bars. Such routine police raids of gay bars in Chicago didn't stop until after Jane M. Byrne became Mayor of Chicago in 1979.

When I came out in 1981, I entered an underground community. It was legal to fire GLBT people, or refuse to hire them in the first place, because of their sexual orientation. It was legal to refuse public accommodation to GLBT people, or to refuse to rent or sell housing to them. In much the state, crimes against GLBT people went unreported because the police were not on our side.

By 1983, I was in Chicago. Routine raids on gay bars had ended, but discrimination was still legal. In 1988—nearly 20 years after Stonewall—the Chicago City Council finally adopted the Human Rights Ordinance, banning discrimination against GLBT people within the city. Added to the small cities and towns that had already enacted local ordinances, roughly one quarter of Illinois residents lived under the protection of GLBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws.

It was another 15 years before the Illinois legislature finally passed a statewide human rights law—nearly 36 years after Stonewall.

The work ignited that New York night in 1969 hasn’t ended. Despite the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, about a dozen US states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, waiting for a more conservative court—or the triumph of the “tenthers”—to begin enforcing them again.

We’ve also seen the frenzied effort by religious extremists to deny same-sex couples any legal recognition whatsoever. Illinois has seen off attempts at amending its state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but the current Republican candidate for Governor, Bill Brady, declared, “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman… I support an Amendment to our state constitution which would safeguard the institution of marriage…”

In Illinois, and most of the US, the battle for equality is far from over. We face powerful, well-financed opponents, especially on the religious right, who lie and defame GLBT people with giddy abandon. But the force to obtain simple justice for GLBT Americans, set loose that night in June 1969, is far from extinguished, even though there are years of work ahead. As Dr. King famously put it, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Ultimately, we will prevail.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The sister act

The Story of Jake has moved into Act II: Jake has a new sister.

Her name is Bella, and she’s a stray cat that joined our family this weekend. We hadn’t expected that, and certainly hadn’t planned on it, but she seemed to have other ideas.

We went down to Nigel’s brother’s house on Saturday, bringing our caravan—and Jake—with us. In late March, a stray cat showed up at their house. She had been injured, which, while healing over, apparently looked pretty bad back then.

They called the SPCA, who determined that Bella wasn't micochipped. They suggested that she may have been thrown out of a car window. Perhaps (we have other ideas of possible scenarios), but she didn’t seem traumatised by whatever happened. In fact, she was quite affectionate to everyone.

However, Bella’s presence was traumatising their own cats, who refused to come into the house. When we arrived, Bella saw Jake, and didn’t move. She didn’t react, she didn’t get up and prepare to run away, she just stayed where she was, unfazed. It’s the first time I’ve seen a cat and dog meet for the first time and not see the cat hiss.

Jake wasn’t fazed by Bella, either. He was quite interested in getting to know her and maybe make friends.

That night, we were in the caravan and Jake wouldn’t settle. Nigel opened the door and Bella jumped in, purring loudly. Jake was somewhat unnerved—big-eyed and alert, but he didn’t attempt to go after Bella. After we put Bella back outside, Jake still didn’t settle; Bella decided to sleep under the caravan, we found out later.

The next morning, when Jake and Bella met up with each other, Bella rubbed up against Jake on one side, then the other.

So, after discussing it with the family, especially our young nieces (who gave Bella her name), it was decided that Bella would come home with us. In retrospect, it seemed to be her decision, actually. So we brought her with us and within a couple hours of us arriving home, all four of us were lying on the bed together. Jake was a little uncomfortable about this, but he’s become more used to the idea of having a cat sister since then.

Today, Bella went outside several times, napped on my lap twice, ate healthily and lounged extensively. Jake sometimes followed her, sometimes took little notice. When Bella was napping on my lap the first time today, Jake napped in the chair next to us. It was a nice way to spend a little of the afternoon.

Next week I’m taking Bella to the vet to get her fully checked out, and I should know more about her then (like roughly how old she is). In the meantime, we’re happy to welcome Bella to the family.

Update 13 April: Last night, Jake was better about having Bella sleeping nearby. Much of the night he was sleeping right next to me, which he didn't do Sunday night.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Gratuitous Jake photo

I’m busy, but not too busy for a quick photo of Jake. Yes, I know only one eye is showing; I tried to move his fur to show his other eye, but he responded by rolling on his side and showing me only the other eye. Actually, he’s hard to photograph under the best of circumstances, so I can’t be too upset about only one eye showing in this photo. He does have two eyes, by the way.

Miles to go

Pick your favourite euphemism: Snowed under, buried, swamped—whatever you call it, I’ve had a LOT of work to get done this week (and it’s not done yet). That’s meant no podcasting and, obviously, no blogging. I hope to return to both soon, but whether it’s this week or next, my absence is only temporary.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Jake turns three

It’s hard to believe, but Jake turned three today. Jake’s blood brother, Doyle, whose birthday it also is, already sent birthday greetings, even before this special post was ready. The boys are like that: So full of love they can’t wait to share!

Jake had a quiet beginning to his day, what with the time change and all (he and his daddies slept in). But a lunch of bacon and eggs meant one thing: Bacon drippings on his otherwise very healthy Eukanuba food (at left). He loved it.

Some more snoozes (like near Daddy Nigel, at the top of the post) made up the bulk of his day.

In the evening, he went along to his Auntie’s house for dinner. After a night out, he was tired and curled up near Daddy Arthur (below).

Jake seemed to have a good day, filled with what he loves the most: His family. And, more than ever, we’re glad that Jake is a part of our family.

Happy Easter

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tasting memories

People often talk about memories associated with sounds or smells, but they don’t talk as much about memory and taste. Maybe it’s too personal, too sensual. Yet we all have memories, good or bad, associated with tastes.

The sense of taste matters for childhood memories, maybe because all sensations were relatively new. I made some of my purchases the other day precisely because of those sense memories. How did those memories align with the products I bought? Here are a few results from things I’ve tried so far:

Pop Tarts: I haven’t had them in 20 years, probably more, so I bought what was my favourite when I was a kid: Strawberry. I had a couple yesterday morning and they were exactly as I remembered. The sweetness made my teeth hurt a bit, but not as bad as ones that were far worse, even when I was a kid: The chocolate ones with chocolate filling and chocolate frosting. I saw them on Thursday and instantly remembered—and could actually feel—how they made me uncomfortable as a kid. I didn’t buy any.

Bugles and Fritos: They’re exactly as I remembered them. I probably haven’t had Bugles in more than 20 years, but I bought a bag of Fritos when I was in Chicago in late 2007. Okay, that’s not specific enough: I bought a bag my first day in the US, within hours of getting up, and made it last for a few days.

Lawry’s Seasoned Salt: As a kid, I used to sprinkle it on steak and on raw celery. We had steak Friday night, so I tried a little bit and it tasted exactly as I remembered it, though I think it may have had MSG in those days (it doesn’t now).

Chips Ahoy Soft & Chewy cookies: This was a bit odd, because I don’t know that I ever had them when I lived in the US; I bought the dry and crunchy ones (I used to buy “Matt’s” soft chocolate chip cookies). So these were, um, interesting: Too sweet, not enough chocolate chip taste—I doubt I’ll buy them again.

A&W Root Beer: Exactly as I remember it. While this wasn’t my brand in the US, the point was that it’s root beer, which isn’t available here. It makes me feel happy to have it, because I loved root beer when I was a kid.

Cherry Coke: This was Nigel’s choice. I found it tasted like cough syrup, far more so than Dr. Pepper (which is sometimes available in NZ).

That’s it so far, fortunately. Moderation is one thing that didn’t exist in my life when these tastes were still new. My waist is grateful it’s there now.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Things you miss and then find

People who’ve moved far from their home country have one thing in common: We all miss things about our homeland. There are people, of course, places and even products that are only available in our home country. For me, the products gap was closed a bit today.

Auckland has specialist supermarkets carrying goods imported from China, Japan, Korea, India and so on. In parts of Auckland, ordinary groceries have entire sections devoted to products imported from South Africa.

American expats have a bit more trouble finding some of their favourite things from home. Sure, some American brands are made locally (or in Australia), but there are many other things that aren’t available. So we often bring things back to New Zealand when we return from a trip to the US, as I memorably did the last time I was there. Others will have folks send them “care packages”. It’s all a hassle.

Many years ago, long before I had a blog, there was a store/café selling American food products in Albany on Auckland’s North Shore. It’s long gone (even the buildings are gone). The other day, however, we found out about a store in the Mt. Wellington area of Auckland that sold American-made products not otherwise available in New Zealand. Today, we went for a visit.

Martha’s Backyard (pictured above) says it has “Genuine USA brands, clothing & food”, and when I walked in, I felt like a kid in a toy store. “Ooooo! Tootsie Rolls! Ooooo, Fritos! Ooooo, A&W Root Beer!” All kinds of things I see only in the US. “Just back the car up to the door,” I told Nigel, “and I’ll fill it up.” While I didn’t want everything they sold, I wanted enough that I made a large purchase (pictured below—don’t judge).

I always feel weird in a store like that: There are all sorts of brands I remember from my regular trips to US grocery stores, even if I bought different brands. But when I see those brands, I’m transported back to my life in the US—and yet I know I’m in New Zealand; the whole thing is unsettling and disorienting.

So I bought things (many things) that I can’t buy in New Zealand normally. The weird thing is, I bought some things I hadn’t had for many—maybe many, many—years before I left the US. The fact that I couldn’t buy them made me want them more than I otherwise would have.

Still, I think it’s a good thing to do this from time to time: It connects one’s past with one’s present. And, anyway, a few treats—in the moderation I was today totally lacking—are no problem.

I didn’t buy everything I saw: Reynold’s Aluminum Foil (Why? We have foil in NZ…), the largest container of ice tea mix I’ve seen in my life, and much more. I can always get them later, after all.

I signed up for the email mailing list. I also joined the Twinkie Club (the first time in decades I can claim that…). When they bring in Twinkies, they give club members first dibs, because they don’t last long in the shop.

I know some people reading this, or looking at the photo below, will roll their eyes. But before judging me or the many other shoppers too harshly, do this: Think of one product you really enjoy, something you take totally for granted. Now, imagine having no way of getting that product unless you travel thousands of miles and tens of hours to get it. Then, imagine that being the case for many years. If you imagine all that, you’ll imagine part of the life of a typical expat.

At least now I have access to little bits of my homeland, and my past: My past and present are joined, and if it takes some American junk food to do that, I can live with that.

Martha’s Backyard: 114 Lunn Av, Mt Wellington, Auckland. Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10-4. Phone: (09) 570-7976. It's well worth a visit for any American expat.

No foolin’

It may be April Fool’s day, but this is no joke: I’m about to praise Bill O’Reilly of Fox “news”.

In 2006, a father buried his son, a Lance Corporal in the US Marines, who was killed in a vehicle accident Al Anbar province in Iraq. Some 1500 people attended the funeral procession—including the whackjobs from Westboro “Baptist” “Church” who picketed the fallen soldier’s funeral, as they often did as part of their viciously anti-gay hate campaign. At these funerals, they railed that dead soldiers were “proof” of “god’s judgment” against the US for “tolerating” gay people. Like I said, they’re whackjobs.

The father sued Westboro and won. A federal jury in Baltimore awarded the father $11 million in damages in 2007, saying Westboro intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the family. The award was later reduced to $5 million, and later overturned on appeal.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to determine whether the "church's" free speech rights trump the religious and privacy rights of the Marine’s family. But then the Court of Appeals ordered the Marine’s father to pay $16,510.80 to the "church" for costs related to their appeal, even though the Supreme Court will review the Court of Appeals' decision. The Marine’s father doesn’t have that sort of money.

This is where Bill O’Reilly came in. Calling the judgement “an outrage,” O’Reilly pledged to pay the father’s legal bill. “I will pay [his] obligation. I am not going to let this injustice stand." While I wouldn’t have put quite the same way O’Reilly did, he’s nevertheless correct in saying that "It's obvious they were disturbing the peace by disrupting the funeral. They should have been arrested, but our system is so screwed up… that loons are allowed to run wild. [The father] is fighting the good fight, and he is taking his case to the Supreme Court as he should. We are behind him 100 percent."

I don’t know that I’ll ever have a reason to praise Bill O’Reilly again, but when someone steps up and does the right thing, I think they should be praised for doing it, regardless of what they do or say the rest of the time. Bill’s doing the right thing.