Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What some people can do

The movie above was made entirely on an iPhone 4: The video was shot and edited on it, the audio was recorded on it, the final thing was put together and then output from the iPhone 4. Although this shows what’s possible using the iPhone 4, I think it especially shows that creative people who know what they’re doing can use anything. That, and it’s kind of cool.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Believe it or not

I’m still getting caught up on things after spending 48 hours involved with Pride 48 (Saturday through Monday NZ time). So, how about something light-hearted? Here’s one of my favourites among current New Zealand TV ads, this one for Instant Kiwi.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where have I been?

Nowhere, really—at least, not in the literal sense. I’ve just been so busy that I couldn’t even find time to blog.
While work projects have taken up time, like usual, there's been another, far bigger project I’ve been working on with increasing intensity: Pride 48.

I’m this year’s host of Pride 48, which is a 48-hour live podcasting marathon with over 30 GLBT and GLBT-friendly podcasters streaming shows over pride48.com. That’s meant recruiting podcasters, doing the scheduling, helping to make sure that everyone has the software they need to connect to the server and sometimes being a diplomat, as you’d expect in any event with so many diverse people taking part.

I’ll be on the Kick-off Show at 8pm EDT Friday, June 25 (12 Noon Saturday, June 26 in New Zealand) and also on the Wrap-up show at 8pm EDT Sunday, June 27 (12 Noon Monday, June 28 in New Zealand). I’m also doing a live AmeriNZ Podcast at 5:30am Saturday, June 26 EDT (9:30PM Saturday in New Zealand). I’ll be recording my live show and will post it the following week.

You may be wondering why I have a timeslot where not many people in the Americas—our largest audience—will be listening. As host, I decided to let folks pick the times they wanted and I’d take whatever was left (after all, I’m on the opening and closing shows). My show is still at a decent hour NZ time.

It’s been a bit of a mission organising all this, and I described scheduling everyone as being like herding cats. However, I’d have to add that they were all purring loudly at the time: Everyone has been good to deal with, friendly and cooperative. There have, of course, been some challenges—some of my making, some just chance—but we’ve met them all one at a time.

We hope, of course, that everything will run smoothly during the weekend, but some things probably won’t. It’s the nature of an all-volunteer event, especially one taking place on the Internet. But everyone taking part is doing so for the love it, and that itself makes it special. The diversity of the voices—literally and figuratively—will make it really interesting, too.

A chatroom is also available for anyone who’s interested in interacting with other listeners—and trust me, that’s a big part of the fun of it all!

Join us!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cheeky Aussies

New Zealand and Australia have a strong sibling rivalry, particularly in sport. However, Aussies take little notice of us until we either beat them or do better than them on the world stage. And when New Zealand does better than Australia on something that the Aussies care about, they often try to appropriate the NZ achievement.

Case in point: The FIFA World Cup. New Zealand drew in its match with Slovakia, one-all. It was a proud achievement for the New Zealand All Whites—their first-ever goal in world cup soccer (and this is the first year that New Zealand has qualified for the World Cup since 1982).

The Australian Socceroos, by comparison, lost their first match to Germany, 4-0. So, New Zealand did better than the Aussies. Put another way, the New Zealand team did what the Australians could not: New Zealand scored a goal.

In response, the Sydney Morning Herald proclaimed the result as “Australasia 1 – Slovakia 1”. This was headlined on the front page of their print edition, and on their website (screenshot above). Um no, “Australasia” had nothing to do with this one.

We’re kind of used to this behaviour from the other side of the Tasman: Not so many years ago, an Australian book tried to claim our national hero, the late Sir Edmund Hillary, as an “Australasian” mountaineer. We, however, are far too polite to do that in reverse—though I suppose it could be that there are so few Aussies worthy of appropriating.

The truth is, no one—including me—takes any of this seriously, but we do love having an excuse to take the piss. You can be sure the next chance they get, Aussies will do that, too.

Happy Matariki!

It’s Matariki, or Māori New Year, in New Zealand. I’ve mentioned it on my podcast, but not here on the blog. It’s about time I fixed that.

Matariki is celebrated each year beginning with the sighting of the new moon in June, combined with the rising of the star group known in Māori as Matariki (hence the name for the festival). It’s better known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters Some tribes apparently wait for the rising of Rigel).

This year, the Matariki festival runs from June 14 to July 14. In many places, there are Māori-specific cultural events and demonstrations, as well as other community events (North Shore City is holding a “planting day” on July 4th, for example).

Matariki has received more attention in recent years, in part because it’s specifically New Zealand, part of our unique Māori heritage and culture. It’s also a good opportunity to promote the Māori language.

Pākehā mainly celebrate Matariki because of its New Zealand uniqueness, and also because it provides an opportunity for some winter fun (bars and restaurants, of course, plan themed parties around it). But along the way, some may absorb at least a little Māori culture, too, which is a good thing.

Happy Matariki!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keeping newspapers alive

The Economist ran a piece called “The strange survival of ink” in which they point out that despite predictions to the contrary, printed newspapers are doing okay, all things considered. They dealt with declining ad revenue and readership by cutting costs (mostly journalists), and were helped with much lower paper costs.

The article paints a confident picture of an industry that adapted to hard times, positioning itself to grow again in good times. Maybe, but I think that’s a bit overly optimistic.

Staff cuts obviously can’t go on indefinitely. As it is, one could argue that the quality of most newspapers has been falling in direct relationship to the declining number of journalists. Also, paper prices can begin climbing again at any time.

The Economist argued, “the key to success for most publications will be a dual revenue stream. Just as they do offline, newspapers will have to bring in both advertising and paying readers.” [emphasis added]. I couldn’t disagree more.

There’s no evidence that customers will agree to pay for what they’ve been getting for free pretty much since the Web began. Logically, pay-walls would require all news organisations to lock-up their content: If just one organisation broke ranks, it would be all over.

But even unanimous adherence to pay-walls wouldn’t be enough. As it is right now, people watch news on television, listen to it on the radio and read papers (online or off), then share the news with others through social networking. There’s simply no way for newspaper publishers to stop news getting out just because their content is behind pay-walls—there will always be people sharing news because it’s in our nature.

Advertising alone also can’t save newspapers, either, and revenues from both print and online advertising have been falling. I’ve noticed that some news sites are now requiring you to look at an ad that fills your screen before you’re allowed to access the web page, in much the same way that video news sites put ads at the start of their videos that you must watch before viewing the video. For print web sites, that strikes me as a bit of desperation.

So, newspapers need to find new and creative revenue models. The “dual revenue stream” model just isn’t good enough anymore and won’t work for the longterm. If they can’t, then we may see traditional news gathering companies fade away in favour of newer models, like maybe journalists cooperatives something else entirely.

Journalism is vital to functioning democracy. One way or another, we’ll have to find a way to pay journalists. Without them, freedom itself is in danger.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

This week in hate

Above are screen grabs taken from three prominent anti-gay hate sites, all of them far-right christianist. These headlines show the hatred they posted in just the past seven days, when gay people or gay issues were not in the news—a merely average week, in other words.

I think it also demonstrates the lengths to which these religious extremists will go to in order to defame GLBT people—they will say anything so they can attack gay people.

I know that most normal people laugh at these christianists. They think these folks are too loopy for anyone to take them seriously (like attacking gay people over the oil spill? WTF?!). However, collectively these groups and others of their ilk have hundreds of thousands of followers who contribute millions of dollars to foment hatred against gay people. Our side has a fraction of the money they have, and we don’t have anything to counter the right wing media machine that constantly propagandises against us.

What we do have, as I wrote about Thursday, are growing numbers of people who are on our side. We need for them to speak out against the extremists, to vote against them and to contribute money to fight them. We especially need real Christians to stand up to those who would use that faith as a weapon of hatred.

Evil thrives on the silent acquiescence of the good; it requires it. If we change the playing field and stand up to the bigots and the bullies and the haters, they will lose.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good news in the numbers

It’s not often that several of my blog posts are tied together by a single news story, but this is such a time. A new poll by CBS News found a massive majority of Americans who know someone who’s gay and it also found increasing acceptance of gay relationships.

On Monday, I obliquely referred to a recent Gallup poll when I wrote, “Recently, the US passed, somewhat late in the game, the point at which half the people surveyed thought gay relationships were morally acceptable.” The CBS poll found a decrease in the percentage of respondents who didn’t find gay relationships “objectionable”: In January 2009, 56% didn’t “object” to such relationships, but in the latest poll that dropped to 48%. CBS offers no reasons for the change, but does note that in 1978, only 23% didn’t “approve”, so support is still more than twice what it was then.

The poll found, as the chart above shows, that 77% of Americans says they know someone who’s gay or lesbian, up from only 42% in 1992. Even the latest percentage is probably too low: Many people do, in fact, know someone who’s gay or lesbian, but they may not know that for a variety of reasons.

But this poll found, as so many before it have, that:

“Those who know someone who is gay or lesbian are less likely to disapprove of homosexual relations than those who do not. More than half of those who know someone who is homosexual do not see homosexual relations between consenting adults as wrong. On the flip side, more than half of those who don't know anyone who is homosexual say such relations are wrong.”

The poll found other unsurprising things: Those over 65 are least likely to “approve” of gay relationships; that age group makes up the biggest part of the anti-gay Republican Party, too. Naturally, people under 30 and Democrats generally don’t “disapprove”.

It also wasn’t unsurprising that language mattered: Respondents asked about “homosexual” relationships were somewhat more likely to disapprove than those asked about “same-sex” relationships. Oddly, though, respondents were slightly more likely to say that people are born “homosexual” than “gay or lesbian”.

And this is where my recent previous two posts on hate groups comes into the picture: What all anti-gay hate groups have in common is that they always use the word homosexual and write “gay”, in quotation marks, to be dismissive. They know that to many people, the only syllable they hear is the third—homoSEXual, reinforcing images of gay people as sick, perverted sexual predators. It also sounds clinical, like a disorder. I believe that both aspects account for the differing responses to the word “homosexual” in questions: Applied to relationships, “gay and lesbian” sounds less overtly sexual, while in the question of whether people are born gay, “homosexual” sounds like a medical condition, while “gay and lesbian” sounds like a choice. These ideas—pathology and choice—are exactly what the rightwing has been trying to foster.

However, here’s what’s important: The percentages of people who realise that they know a gay or lesbian person is reaching ever more massive majorities. Such people are far more likely to support GLBT people’s rights and to realise that we’re born, not made. That, in turn, means that inevitably we will prevail and the anti-gay hate groups will fail.

Progress is slow—far too slow for a civilised society, but it’s clear and unstoppable. The right wing knows that, which is what’s behind their increasing—and increasingly obvious—desperation. The day is rapidly approaching in which the vast majority of Americans will know the truth and the battles will end.

So, polls like this aren’t merely interesting numbers—they’re a glimpse of a better a future. They also show that the future will arrive much sooner if every gay and lesbian person comes out.

Where credit isn’t due

The leading US anti-gay hate group focusing on outlawing marriage equality, the National Organization for Man/Lady-only Marriage, has claimed credit for the selection of millionaire Carly Fiorina, who was fired as CEO of HP, as the far-right Republican nominee for US Senator from California.

The organisation’s spokesphobe declared that his group “was the first on the air with TV ads highlighting Tom Campbell's liberal record on gay marriage and taxes.” In reality, it was more of a smear campaign. He also gushed over their “wildly successful” robo-calls to 600,000 Republican voters in California. At the risk of stating the bloody obvious, what on earth makes him think that those voters all voted as the bigots demanded?

Evidence against the influence of the hate group includes the fact that prominent anti-abortion activist groups endorsed Fiorina, as did that wacky Sarah Palin. Fiorina’s poll ratings reportedly soared after the Palin endorsement (Republican primary voters in California are pretty rightwing). So, it’s a bit rich—and a hulluva lot of hubris—for the hate group to claim credit.

And it wasn’t exactly a landslide: According to the semi-official results I saw, Fiorina had 56.4% of the vote—a clear majority, but hardly a thumping. The biggest loser arguably wasn’t the moderate Tom Campbell, but the even more far-right Chuck DeVore, who came in third.

The selection of Fiorina will prove interesting. A hard-right conservative who opposes both abortion rights and the right of same-sex couples to marry will be pitted against a Democrat who supports both. And, Fiorina’s disastrous leadership of HP will become a campaign issue.

In related news, a federal appeals court rejected the anti-gay hate group’s attempt to keep its donor lists secret, in violation of Maine law (the group spent some $2 million of secretly-raised money to get Maine voters to take away same-sex marriage rights). The hate group plans to take their appeal to the US Supreme Court. They argue that if their lists are made public, their donors will be “victimised” by gay people and their supporters—even though there’s not one single documented case of violence or any other significant act of retaliation against the group’s anti-gay supporters, nor opponents of same-sex marriage rights generally.

The obvious question is, what’s the group trying to hide? In California, the Prop 8 campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights featured collusion between the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches, supported by fundamentalist protestant Christians. Mormons in particular donated far more money than their numbers would seem likely without active involvement by their church. In Maine, Roman Catholic churches urged financial and voting support for the repeal effort. So, will the hate group’s donor list reveal attempts by particular churches to force their religious agenda in secret? Are there prominent Americans who’d be embarrassed if their support for the hate group became known?

The hate group has ignored all previous orders to reveal their donor lists. I wouldn’t be surprised if they refused to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, should that court side with democracy and against the hate group.

The hate group can bluff and bluster all it wants, but it doesn’t change two things: First, they’re not as important as they think they are, and second, they’re on the wrong side of history. Ultimately, they will fail and one day we’ll wonder why they were ever taken seriously.

Carefully taught to hate

Leading far-right anti-gay bigot Porno Pete LaBarbera has announced the formation of an “academy”, “stepping up to train a new generations [sic] of activists to contend with the sexual sin movement that has fooled so many Americans into treating a human wrong — changeable same-sex behavior — as a ‘civil right.’”

For a mere US$99, kids (and adults) can learn how to more effectively turn hatred of GLBT people into political action. Some of the leading anti-gay hate groups in America will be on hand to make sure that the young people are carefully taught.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

New Zealand most peaceful nation – still

For the second year in a row, New Zealand has been ranked the nation in the world most at peace. The Global Peace Index (GPI) ranked 149 countries, evaluating “23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from respected sources, which combine internal and external factors ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbouring countries and the level of respect for human rights.”

This is the fourth edition of the GPI, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a “global think tank dedicated to the research and education of the relationship between economic development, business and peace.” The GPI report was written in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The GPI is significant because it’s fairly unique among global indices in that it attempts to rank countries on something other than economic performance alone. Most global economic indices are also heavily slanted toward business interests, downplaying or even ignoring the needs of ordinary people. The GPI, by contrast, looks at variety of factors, including political stability, respect for human rights and, well, peacefulness. In other words, the GPI ranks things that are a necessary base for a society to thrive and grow.

The GPI notes that, “small, stable and democratic countries are consistently ranked highest,” which shouldn’t be a surprise: Such countries are probably among the least likely to launch wars, and they have the greatest self-interest in international cooperation. New Zealand is such a country, promoting international cooperation and negotiation over conflict. It supports these international efforts and UN Peacekeeping far out of scale with its actual size: This country is a world leader in promoting peace. It was, after all, the first nation in the world to go nuclear-free and it did not join the Iraq War.

What the GPI really tells us about the world is that it’s still far too violent a place, but some nations have chosen a course of peace. I think that’s reason for hope.

And because I think that countries should vie and compete with each other to be the most peaceful, not the most aggressive, I’ll point out that among countries I write about, Canada was ranked 14th, Australia 19th, United Kingdom 31st and United States 85th. Still, improving their rankings really isn’t that difficult, is it? All it takes is finding the will.

I may not be religious, but this particular quote has always been among my favourites:

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4

Maybe one day we can make it reality.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Can Facebook help end the closet?

An article by Joshua Alston at Newsweek suggests that Facebook, and social media generally, may help end closeted life for gay people if for no other reason than it becomes too much work to constantly monitor one’s “online presence”, as it’s sometimes called. It’s an interesting idea.

Alston begins by talking about a 27-year-old closeted friend who was upset when a mutual friend posted something on his boyfriend’s Twitter feed that revealed their relationship. While apparently an innocent comment, it nevertheless potentially meant they’d have to come out.

The problem for closeted people is that while they can control what they say about themselves, and what they do and don’t post online, they can’t control the actions of their friends—online or real—and it’s frankly unreasonable to expect those friends to go to huge lengths to keep a closeted person’s “secret”.

Obviously, everyone has to make his or her own choices about whether it’s safe to be out. In many countries—like Malawi—it’s clearly dangerous, but in the US? Yeah, even there it’s not safe everywhere.

But safe from what, safe for whom? Maintaining a closeted life—or worse, at the extreme end, the feigned appearance of heterosexuality—is a really bad idea. There are serious consequences to maintaining this façade, and not all of them are obvious—health problems for example, or the social consequences from lying to friends and family for years or decades.

The stress and strain from maintaining a closeted life can cause health problems, as studies have shown. But withholding an important fact about oneself from others means that one isn’t having an honest relationship with them, and they may by upset by that when they finally learn the truth.

The greater threat, however, is bigger: The increasing numbers of GLBT people who live openly and expect to be treated equally means that society’s attitudes are changing. Recently, the US passed, somewhat late in the game, the point at which half the people surveyed thought gay relationships were morally acceptable. That’s progress, however slow, and study after study has shown that the single greatest factor in changing straight people's attitudes is when they actually know a gay person.

So being in the closet is, I think, not just a bad idea for an individual, it’s holding back the achievement of full social and legal equality for GLBT people in general. If social networks like Facebook and Twitter help GLBT people to come out and live proudly and openly, and to live more fully integrated lives, then they will have been a far more positive influence for social good than I would’ve thought they could be. I hope that proves to be the case.

A question of honesty

This video from the New Zealand Labour Party is part of continuing a series attacking the current National Party-led government. In this video, the honesty of Prime Minister John Key is called into question. Actually, it just points out the conflicting statements Key has made, leaving us to wonder whether Key can be trusted or believed.

I like these videos, however, I wish they’d also produce some equally well-done positive videos, talking about issues from Labour’s perspective. It’s one thing, to attack, it’s quite another to offer an alternative. The reason that negative campaigning is done is simple: It works. But voters need more than reasons to vote against National: They need reasons to vote for Labour. Put another way, we all know what’s wrong with National; we need to know what’s right about Labour.

Still, the next election is the better part of a year and a half away, if the Government can last the distance, so Labour has plenty of time to refine its message. I hope they do.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Calling change

I got an email from the phone company today:

“Here's how much you're calling on average each month: 51 minutes. [This] is an average of your monthly usage based on your last 3 bills up to 5 May 2010.”

That means that, averaged out over a year, we talk on phonecalls that we make less than 2 minutes a day. Time was, we had page after page of itemised calls. Now, they never even fill a partial page—if any at all. Of course, this doesn’t count calls we receive, but we can go days without using the landline phone at all, so I doubt there are many minutes a month spent on them, either.

Instead of the landline, I use my cellphone (especially for text messages), various online methods and I use Skype for international calls. NONE of that was possible when I arrived in New Zealand in 1995. Even email was of limited use.

In 1995, I had an email account, but not many of my friends or family in America did. I got my first cellphone several years later, but I couldn’t send text messages to anyone in the US because their phones either couldn’t yet do texts, or else the costs were too high—for them (in New Zealand, we’ve always paid only to send texts and make cellphone calls, never to receive them). The things I now take for granted, like Skype, didn’t exist yet, not that it mattered, because neither did broadband: Everyone was still on dial-up.

Advances in the Internet and telephony over the past 15 years have absolutely made my life much easier and better, and I now have many instant communication options where I once had only a traditional landline telephone. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead, and what I’ll be using 15 years from now.

51 minutes per month on landline phone calls? Frankly, I’m kind of surprised that it’s even that much.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

US Memorial Day in New Zealand

Photo originally uploaded by
US Embassy New Zealand
Monday (US time) was Memorial Day in the US, and that was today here in New Zealand. The US Embassy held two events to mark the day: A service in Wellington and a flag raising at Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekakariki.

The flag raising ceremony was held to mark the formation of the Kapiti US Marines Trust to preserve the history of the US marines on the Kapiti Coast during World War Two.

Most countries' embassies or high commissions host events related to their home countries, sometimes relating them to New Zealand, as the Kapiti ceremony did. Typically, though, such official events are held in the host country's capital.