Tuesday, August 31, 2010

News from bird brains

I frequently refer to Sky News Australia as “News for Parrots” because the focus of every story is Australia—no matter how tenuous, irrelevant or superficial the connection. For example, yesterday their reports that I saw on their channel about the Emmy Awards were only about how Australians did.

The truly annoying thing Sky News Australia does is that they frequently pre-empt world news—or even real news of their own—for fluff. Today was the worst example yet: They interrupted the nightly ABC News (US) for “Breaking News”. They didn’t wait for a commercial break, but instead interrupted right in the middle of an ABC News report.

And what was the earth-shattering, shocking news that required such an abrupt interruption? It’s been ten years since the opening of the Sydney Olympics. Seriously! Some guy talking about how it’s been ten years and reciting a list of commemorative events was so very much more important than ABC News’ reports on how Iraq will fare when they’re fully in charge of security in their country. I swear the folks making their editorial decisions have parrot-sized brains in real life.

Sky News Australia is a pretty amateur news channel, but it’s our only 24-hour local choice (we also have the Fox Propaganda Channel, bland, shallow CNN or BBC World, which while excellent is usually not a straightforward news broadcast). I watch Sky News Australia mostly to see the nightly newscasts from ABC News (US) and/or CBS News.

The reason that I always refer to it as Sky News Australia, even though our screens read “Sky News New Zealand”, is that there’s nothing New Zealand about it, apart from the rare news report and Question Time from Parliament three days a week most weeks. They used to have a weekly “New Zealand News Week” segment, but I don’t know if they do that anymore.

It’s probably just as well. Sky News Australia is focused so thoroughly on superficial fluff from Australia that it’s best we’re not associated with it; we wouldn’t want folks to think that we’re as shallow as they are.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Kiwi common sense

The New Zealand branch of a notorious American ultra-fundamentalist anti-gay group has been refused registration as a charity in New Zealand. It’s another example of common sense Kiwi values in action.

Exodus Ministries New Zealand, which runs an “ex gay” “therapy”, applied for registration as a charity, claiming that it was carrying out charitable work as defined by law. The Charities Commission disagreed because the group’s clear mission is anti-gay (the PDF of the decision is available online).

As part of its determination, the Commission listed relevant credible scientific studies that call into question the validity of “reparative therapy” (as the “ex-gay” scam is also known), as well as pointing out the harm it does. A group cannot claim to be a charity if its work causes public harm, as “reparative therapy” does.

Moreover, the Commission noted:
“In New Zealand, the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 and over and the Human Rights Act 1993 makes sexual orientation a prohibited ground of discrimination. Moreover, New Zealand now recognises civil unions between members of the same sex.”
The dubious claims about benefits of “reparative therapy” and the equality of gay New Zealanders matters because a group cannot claim to be conducting charitable activities for the benefit of New Zealand when that work could cause harm to a segment of society. Which is why the Commission declared:
"In light of the above, the Commission considers that it is not able to determine whether the Applicant will, or will not, provide a benefit to the public that will outweigh any harm caused by the Applicant's purposes. Accordingly, the Commission is unable to determine whether the Applicant's purposes will provide a public benefit."
In New Zealand, religion gets no automatic special rights just because it’s a religion. Instead, the same rules apply to religious-based groups as for any other group seeking to operate as a charity. This is how it should be in the US, too, but isn’t.

Even though they’re not a charity, Exodus can still conduct their “ministry”; although other laws could, in theory, prevent them from conducting activities that harm people, I suspect that as long as it remained exclusively within the context of a church, they would probably get away with it. What they will miss out on is that contributions to them aren’t tax-deductible and not being a registered charity could make it hard for them to get grants (assuming they’d even be eligible for any).

This seems like a fairly common sense approach: Their freedom of speech and religious belief is protected, so they’re free to peddle their nonsense, but without the sanction of the state. While I’d prefer to see them banned from New Zealand altogether for peddling quack “cures” of homosexuality, I’m at least glad that they can’t masquerade as a real charity.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fuck Glenn Beck

I couldn’t possibly care less what anyone thinks of me for saying “fuck” because Glenn Beck deserves it. He is a fraud, a charlatan, a snake oil salesman, someone beneath attention, let alone contempt. He cares only about himself and making himself ever richer. Those who buy his books—and his rhetoric—are stupid chumps, about whom he laughs to the core of his being.

“828” should be forever remembered not for self-serving, self-promoting nobodies, but for what challenged America to live up to the “true meaning of its creed”, to embrace the “fierce urgency of now”. If you want to know what America can be, what its promised and unrealised potential is, watch the above video. But if your heart is filled with hate, if you're racist and bigoted, if you’re are easily swayed by the fraud that is Glenn Beck, then leave now. You’re not welcome on this blog.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what is probably the greatest political speech in American history. It is the only speech that can, no matter how many times I hear it, bring tears to my eyes. It will continue to do so long after Beck and his dupes have faded into a collective joke.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring. We shall overcome Beck and his dupes, too.

Double dare

One of the leading anti-gay hate groups in America is the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage (or whatever their name is—like it matters…). They have a radio ad that panics and whines over whether “San Francisco values” should be “imposed” on the rest of the country.

A little history: “San Francisco values” has been a Republican code word phrase since 1984, when the Democratic National Convention was held in that city. It’s typical right-wing dog whistle politics in which normal people hear the Republicans whine about San Francisco and think it’s all about “liberals”. In fact, Republicans have always heard that phrase and thought only of the dirty queers who live there.

So NOM using that phrase is deliberately intended to rile up the bigoted homo-hating base of the Republican Party so they’ll vote in the upcoming elections. Normal people may ignore it, but the frothing right will hear it and respond. The danger is that the frothing right is VERY motivated to vote, normal sensible people much less so.

In this video, one of my YouTube faves, Sean Chapin, responds as a native San Franciscan. I double dog dare NOM to answer his challenge. They won’t because, like all hate-filled bigots, they’re too chicken shit to face their opposition. Actually, they’re too crazy to act in the reality-based world we all live in, but that’s another topic entirely.

Kudos to Sean for standing up to the hate from NOM.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Accidental humour

If you haven’t tried it already, the YouTube “Transcribe Audio” feature accidentally creates all sorts of silliness and mirth. Today I saw a brilliant example.

My buddy Mark (from Slap Upside the Head) sent me the YouTube link for Air Canada’s Safety Video for the A319 (after the discussion here the other day about Air New Zealand’s deliberate use of humour in their safety video). So you click on that link, go to YouTube, then, as Mark advised: “Click the CC icon and choose ‘transcribe audio’ for a fascinating look into the mind of Google's AI.”

So I did, of course, and what frankly would've been a totally dreary video without that helpful hint became so much more. I’ll share what I learned from the captions:

"The question Susan that it's difficult Lee Iacocca." (of course it is)

Of electronic devices: "You don't want to use it on the news or internal struggles in this instance think tank." (always sound advice)

Current affairs: "Senator that's really the UN going to have some equity the said seventy six o'clock o'clock." ("seventy six o'clock o'clock" is a meeting time required by agents of the New World Order—little known fact. It's the time the black helicopters take off to read the silicon chips in people's heads)

Reading comprehension is tested after reading the instruction card: "Been tested on a question two thousand the channel was enough to beat the clock." (clearly the questions are easy enough to answer 2,000 of them before landing; what a relief!)

In an emergency: "Polka mass to would seem use the support staff to hold a mask over your mouth and no… but just two months. (call me paranoid, but personally I have concerns about staff holding a mask over my mouth at all, let alone for two months)

Steve is annoying: "Steve you've been asking that… since these internet but it has to come in the midst of a tiny people… steven the last… his TV and on and on." Apparently, Steve's on American Idol, or similar: “Make it crucial votes amassed have bought a ticket."

Neighbourliness: "Always secure your own mascot for assisting in and in person." (mascots are always helpful)

However, I see a political agenda: "But see that's a question… but you have to talk with you… silicon chip until that time is the don't see how cynical… the abortion issue that to do something about it." It adds later, "The leftist should only be inflated is in the the aircraft." (they want to leave the leftists behind!)

"Mr. Douglas was Canada." (I always wondered who Mr. Douglas was)

This is just a bit of silliness, and it worked so hilariously because part of narration is in French (of course), which is where most—but certainly not all—of the bizarre transcription comes from. One day, this feature will probably work perfectly, and the fun will be gone.

But for now, it makes even boring videos into some of the most entertaining things on the Internet. And we can all use a little harmless fun.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One thing

While I’m not a fan of the right in general, or the New Zealand National Party in particular, I believe in saying so when they do something right, however rare I think that is. This is one of those times.

The Prime Minister has announced that he believes it’s time to review the laws on reporting suicide. Section 71 of the Coroners Act makes it illegal to report that someone committed suicide, unless permission to report that has been granted by the Coroner and, even then, the manner of death cannot be reported.

This is why the New Zealand newsmedia will report certain deaths saying, “there are no suspicious circumstances” or “police are not seeking anyone else”. Very often this is code for the “the person committed suicide” (it would be impossible in New Zealand to report, as American newsmedia routinely does, that someone died of a “self-inflicted gunshot wound”). These restrictions apply when someone dies in New Zealand.

The laws were instituted with a kind of ultimate nanny state “we know what’s best” mindset. They felt that if the fact that someone committed suicide was withheld from publication, it would prevent copycats. And yet, New Zealand has the fifth highest suicide rate for males and the eighth highest for females among all developed countries. For youths, it’s even worse: Second-highest. Clearly censorship hasn’t prevented suicides.

John Key has noted that in the Internet Age, such restrictions are pointless. If a youth commits suicide, for example, youths will quickly start discussing it on Facebook, for example, and it isn’t subject to New Zealand law. An argument has been made—and I agree—that not discussing suicide, when everyone knows that’s what happened, actually makes it more alluring, in a strange way, and the phony silence could actually end up encouraging the very thing the censorship is supposed to prevent: More suicides.

I think it’s high time we started reporting death by suicide honestly, though I’m certain the ban on reporting the method will remain. If the total censorship ever made sense—and I don’t think it did—that time is long past.

So I think that Prime Minister John Key is right—about this one thing, anyway. I hope he succeeds in making the needed reforms.

See also The New Zealand Herald editorial, Shine light into a dark corner”.

Act the fools

The Act Party continues to provide endless entertainment. About a week after I wrote about the circus when the party dumped its deputy leader, the clowns again entered the centre ring.

Yesterday, Act Leader Rodney Hide suggested that Heather Roy may not return from her 2-week break, after all. Reportedly, Hide and others were talking with the woman who would enter Parliament in the event that Roy resigned. They also allegedly spread the notion that party founder and political has-been Roger Douglas, who had been Roy’s sole-supporter in caucus, was done with her.

Then this morning, word broke that another Act member, Peter Tashkoff, number seven on the Act Party List in the 2008 election, planned to challenge Hide for the Epsom Electorate seat that Hide now holds. He was scathing in his criticism of Hide.

Finally, Heather Roy returned to Parliament today—a week early. She said nothing mattered but the “success” of the party, but she also had to take questions about an alleged affair she’d supposedly had with her ex-staffer, who had leaked her scathing 82-page criticism of Hide. The source of those rumours was allegedly the Act caucus.

As a centre-left voter, I freely admit to a lot laughing and a bit of schadenfreude as the Act Party circus continues. But the truth is, National Party supporters, most of whom cannot stand Act for different reasons, won’t be too unhappy, either. After all, National doesn’t need Act to govern, should a total meltdown happen.

A less partisan observer might wonder why they’re all acting like this, and I’d suggest that it parallels the friction with the right wing in the US.

The Act Party was formed as a liberal (in the 19th century sense of the word) party, mostly libertarian, especially on economic issues. For the last election, they took on social conservatives—Garrett and Boscawen; though Douglas can’t exactly be called a moderate on social issues, it’s never been his focus.

There is always tension between libertarians, who believe that social issues are none of the government’s business and who pursue conservative economic policies, and social conservatives who feel that in many cases such issues are more important than economic issues. That same split happened to the teabaggers in the US, and is now playing out again there over issues like same-sex marriage and the Islamic cultural centre in New York City. The problem is that a union between the two kinds of conservatives is inherently fraught and unstable when they disagree so fundamentally over their core issues.

But in the case of Act, it’s all the more bizarre: The only reason they’re in Parliament at all is that Hide won the Epsom electorate. As it is, he may not be able to hold the seat, so do they really want to risk their only ticket back into Parliament? Without winning an electorate, they can’t get back into Parliament, so Hide would seem to be their only chance.

Obviously, I’d like to see them fly apart at the seams because I think they’re pretty useless. The old Act Party, much as I disagreed with it, was at least useful in that it presented an alternative viewpoint that was wrong, but rational. The new Act is all over the map, from right to far-right. Rather than being a more or less sane rightwing, albeit libertarian, party, it’s decayed into one filled with wingnuts, many of whom are racist, sexist, homophobic—oh, and they’re climate change deniers, too.

I can’t see who—or what—Act represent anymore, apart from itself. Act once was a party of principle. For it to survive, it’ll have to return to those days, and jettison the loopy extremists they’ve taken on board.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A kiss is not a kiss

Are standards from other countries relevant to New Zealand, which has its own culture, including a unique sense of humour?

The above video is a flight safety video for Air New Zealand domestic flights. I saw it on an American site where a couple people were kind of put out by the scene around 2:40 onwards (context matters), specifically reacting to what they saw to be a grimace. I see it as just innocent Kiwi humour, nothing more. But I’m not saying any more so as not to overly prejudice anyone who watches the video.

I’d love to know what you think. Is this harmless fun, as I think, or borderline offensive? And, do the standards of other countries even matter for something that’s not intended for them? Do you agree with me that some Americans need to lighten up? Or, do you think we need to change our way of thinking? Yep, it’s an open forum, so say what you think about this and even cultural relativity generally.

Addendum: YouTube also has an earlier Air New Zealand flight safety video with everyone wearing body paint from the airline's "Nothing to Hide" series.

Truth and fake truth

Another interesting fight has broken out over the widespread use of faked photos in women’s magazines. Is “faked” too strong a word? I don’t think so: They routinely take photos of women and Photoshop them beyond reality—to the extent that the result cannot be considered real or true.

The folks over at Jezebel have been crusading about this for quite awhile now, and sometimes they hit a raw nerve. When they published a post about the Photoshopping of Jennifer Aniston, complete with undoctored photos from the same photo shoot from which a cover shot was taken, they received a “cease and desist” order from the agency which bizarrely claimed, among other things, that the original, undoctored photo was, in fact, doctored.

To its credit, Jezebel is fighting the agency arguing that the small, cropped image they are using is “fair use” because it is central to a legitimate news story. They’re also, of course, documenting the fight online.

Jessica Coen, the author of the post and Editor-in-Chief, summed up why they’re fighting so hard on this issue. She wrote in the linked post:

“Lord knows that I'm not perfect, that there are days when I simply do not like what I see in the mirror. And there are reasons for that that are deeply personal and reasons that are rooted in a youth spent immersed in these images. On those bad days, it's not easy to give myself a reality check, but I know it's all wrong, that it doesn't have to be this way. And if we don't make a fuss, if we don't scream and shout and pull out our hair every time we find more proof that we are being cruelly had — that's just another day that nothing changes. That's just another day that some young woman is force-fed a lie.

And that, too, is bullshit.”
She’s absolutely right—and fighting an uphill battle. But if it’s wrong for journalists to alter reality by manipulating news photos, is it any less wrong to alter photos to present an impossibly idealised and unrealistic version of “beauty”? Does the fact the latter is selling a product or lifestyle make it any more acceptable or ethical than a photo meant to tell a real-life story? And if the re-touched “beauty” photos make people feel bad about themselves because they can never live up to that image, doesn’t that add a layer of immorality to the act, too?

This is a very touchy (re-touchy?) subject in the graphics industry. As professionals, our motivation is primarily to present beautiful images, but many of us draw an ethical line when it comes to altering reality (a couple years ago I even argued against re-touching personal photos). I believe there’s a difference between making a photo appear as good as possible, and altering it to change reality. I do the former, but try to avoid the latter. I wish more publishers had that same ethic.

I applaud Jezebel for fighting the good fight.

Top o’ the Hat to Twitter pal @paudecanela_nz for Re-Tweeting the link to the Jezebel post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Aussie rulers

The Australian federal elections on Saturday produced no clear winner and the country’s first hung Parliament in some seven decades. The results also show flaws in the Preferential Voting system used for electing the Australian House of Representatives, a system known as “Instant Run-off Voting” in other places.

The problem is that to govern, someone must control a majority of seats in the House: 76 of the 150 seats. The currently-ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) is the largest single party in the new House, while the Liberal Party and the Nationals have an established coalition and combined have more seats, but neither has 76 seats. At the moment, the ALP is estimated to have 72 seats, the Lib/Nats 73 in their total coalition. There’s one Green Party MP and four independents. Since the Greens are unlikely to support the conservative Lib/Nats, the future of Parliament—and which party will lead Government—rests on those four independent MPs.

The flaw exposed by this election is that it still favours two political parties. Up to a million votes may have been “wasted” as people cast preferential votes that ultimately did no good. A larger flaw is that, just like the traditional First Past the Post system, the eventual make-up of Parliament may not match the actual percentage of the popular vote nationwide, and that means that a government can still form with minority support.

This is an inherent strength of New Zealand’s MMP system: Parliament will mirror the party preferences of the people. Also, a truly “hung Parliament” is highly improbably under MMP because it requires, practically by definition, coalition governments forged among several parties. It also makes multi-party democracy an almost certainty.

Some Australian pundits have been citing New Zealand as an example of the horrors ahead as the country waits to find out if it will have a government or goes back to the polls. Specifically, they point out the couple months it took New Zealand to form a government after the 1996 election. However, what the pundits always leave out is that 1996 was New Zealand’s first election under MMP. The country has since learned very well how it works, and governments are now formed quickly.

The Australian Senate uses STV, a version of IRV, combined with proportional representation. It’s a marked improvement over the IRV used for the Australian House election.

MMP isn’t a perfect system, and I’ll be talking about it in more detail soon. But the Australian election shows why both MMP (with all its faults) and the STV used for the Australian Senate are superior to the IRV system used by the Australian House: Both produce a more democratic result, more quickly (as of this writing, none of the seats are officially declared).

Some historical notes: The first Green MP was elected to the House in a general election (because the system favours the two main parties), a 20-year-old was elected as the youngest MP ever and Australia got its first aboriginal MP—in 2010. By contrast, New Zealand’s first Maori MPs were elected in 1868, though it wasn’t until 1893 that a Maori MP, James Carroll, was elected from a general seat. Carroll served as Acting Prime Minister twice (1909 and 1911), making him New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekend Diversion: OMD - If You Want It

This is the official video of “If You Want It”, the new song by OMD (which stood for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; their official site in the link offers a free download for folks who sign up for their emailing list). “If You Want It” is from OMD's forthcoming album, The History of Modern (to be released next month), their first since 1996’s Universal.

For me, OMD is one of the quintessential 80s groups and, in fact, they did many of my favourite songs from that era. This song reminds me of an updated version of a song from that time, and for me that’s obviously not a bad thing. In any case, the video’s interesting.

OMD’s best known song is probably “If You Leave” from the movie "Pretty in Pink". You'll have to watch the video on YouTube (because EMI narrow-mindedly doesn’t permit embedding of their videos).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Compulsory Christianity

Truthout published a report about a soldier who was disciplined when he declined to attend a concert headlined by an ultra-fundamentalist Christian band (the band supports Mercy Ministries, a radical anti-gay christianist group I mentioned earlier this week). The soldier is fighting the military hierarchy over his treatment.

Pfc. Anthony Smith had been training at Ft. Eustis in Virginia when he and the other soldiers were ordered to march in formation to the Commanding General's “Spiritual Fitness Concert”. Two Muslim soldiers reportedly fell out of formation rather than comply.

This “spirtual fitness” event was held under the orders of Gen. James E. Chambers, who is a self-professed “born again Christian”. His events are almost always Christian in nature, fundamentalist in particular.

According to Truthout:

“Once outside the concert, Smith and the other trainees were finally given an option and told to split into two groups: those who wanted to attend, and those who did not. Smith and about 80 others decided not to attend, even though they were obviously being "pressured" to do so. Smith and the others were sent back to their barracks on "lockdown," a punishment that Smith said withholds even basic freedoms like using their own electronics.”

The issue here isn’t the specific punishment, but rather that US soldiers were punished for standing up for their religious liberty, guaranteed to them by the US Constitution’s First Amendment. The issue here is that soldiers are meant to be fighting to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution, but the commanding general obviously is not.

Mandatory religion has no place in the military, but this is nothing new: The radical right has been working hard to make "a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform.” I wrote about that two years ago.

Smith said “…there were so many people who weren't willing to stand up for themselves." But Smith and another soldier filed an Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint against their commanding officers, not that they took any notice.

Personally, I find it reassuring that despite the best efforts of radical far right christianists, there are still soldiers willing to stand up for their Constitutional rights in the face of massive pressure and injustice.

Smith told Truthout, “I've always stood up to my beliefs, it is kind of ridiculous that I have to deal with this in the military." It’s very ridiculous, but we should all be glad that Smith had the courage and strength of character to do the right thing. Fortunately, there are a lot more soldiers like Smith than the radical right would ever care to admit. However, the threat remains.

Tip o’ the Hat to my friend Ninure, who Tweeted the Truthout link earlier today.

And the race is on…

Nominations for candidates in the local elections closed yesterday, so today I downloaded all the official lists of candidates from the new Auckland Council site. This year, of course, the citizens and ratepayers for eight separate councils will be choosing one new Auckland Council, 32 Local Boards and one Mayor for us all.

In my case, my choices are:
  • Mayor: 23 candidates for 1 position.
  • Auckland Council: 12 candidates for 2 positions in our Ward
  • Local Board: 23 candidates for 8 positions
So, I'll vote for 11 people out of a grand total of 58 contenders. Some of them can be ruled out instantly because they’re nutters, extremists and/or vanity candidates, but there are some serious choices no matter where one is on the political spectrum. That, at least, is a good thing.

Another good thing is that I have quite awhile to make my mind up—looks like I may need it!

Addendum: There are two other ordinary elections this year, ones that have nothing to do with the new Auckland Council. First, our local licensing trust has 11 candidates vying for six vacancies and our district health board has a whopping 33 candidates chasing seven vacancies.

So, the grand total is: I have 102 people to choose among for 24 positions. I should note that many of the same people are running for several positions at once, so there’s overlap. But, still—it’s a helluva lot of choices to make!

And that’s precisely why I love democracy so much.

The Republican Mess

This video sums up what the Republican Party did to America and what it would do again if it regains power. Imagine how much further along the country would be if President Obama and the Democrats hadn’t had to spend so much time cleaning up the mess that Bush/Cheney and the Republicans made.

President Obama was correct: America is like a car, and to go forward, put it in D, but if America wants to go backward, put it in R. It really is that simple.

Tip o’ the Hat to The Political Carnival, where I saw this video.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The ‘Big Lie’ works

A new poll from Pew Research has demonstrated the success of rightwing propaganda in the US: Growing numbers of Americans think President Barack Obama is Muslim, fewer know that he’s Christian and the biggest percentage say they “don’t know” what his religion is.

Specifically, the poll found that 18% of Americans incorrectly believe the president is Muslim (up from 11%), only 34% correctly said Obama is Christian (down from 48%) and a whopping 43% claimed they didn’t know what his religion is (up from 34%). This indicates that rightwing propaganda, falsely claiming he’s Muslim, is working, increasing both the percentage who think he’s Muslim as well as creating doubt in the minds of a great many more.

What’s wrong with Americans? How can they be so stupid?

The answer, of course, is the constant drumbeat from the far right, especially the teabbaggers, that the president is Muslim. It’s part of the reason why their official party, the Republican Party, has been working so hard to sow fear and loathing of Muslims and Islam generally: It suits their political ends.

Bill Burton, a White House spokesperson, told the media that the American people are too busy worrying about other, big issues, and "are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is." Have they not seen Fox “News”? Have they not seen the signs at teabagger rallies? Are they unaware of the rhetoric on rightwing websites—or even the comments on mainstream news sites? Of course they are, but they’re trying to correct Americans while not attacking them for believing rightwing B.S. That’s as it should be.

But what of the mainstream media? What hope is there for Americans to know the truth, when the AP story reporting on this irresponsibly begins: “The White House insisted on Thursday that President Barack Obama is a Christian who prays daily as it looked to tamp down growing doubts among Americans about the president's religion.” [emphasis added]. “Insisted”? Really, AP? You mean you don’t believe him either? The word “inisisted” implies they’re saying something that isn’t, or may not be—true, and the AP bloody well knows that.

But for me, the more offensive aspect to this story is the implicit assumption that the US president must not only be religious, but must be Christian. Many religious people are as offended by the assumption of overt religiosity as are the non-religious, all of whom value the separation of church and state as a core principle of the American republic. Indeed, Pew also found that 52% of Americans feel that churches should stay out of politics (a steady proportion), but a shocking 43% disagreed (down from 45%). In other words, far too many Americans feel religion should interfere in politics.

The United States was never founded as, nor intended to become, a Christian nation. The founders were as suspicious of control by a church as they were control by government and they fought to keep the two firmly separated. These days, the rightwing has mounted an all-out war on that cherished principle, seeking to make not just religion the centre of US government, but Christianity specifically.

Which is why their war on Islam is not mere xenophobia, racism or religious bigotry: They know that true religious liberty would mean freedom for all religions, including Islam, and they cannot allow that—it would keep them from having absolute power. It would also mean the freedom to have no religion, and they cannot allow that threat to their power, either. That’s why they foster the assumption that being Muslim is always bad, a Muslim president even worse, and overt Christianity is the only permissible condition for a president—or American.

I see no easy or immediate cure to this problem. Propaganda (aka outright lies) works, as this poll shows. Or, as Adolf Hitler put it, people “more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie…”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some economic truths

Under President Clinton, the US Budget was in surplus. Under Bush/Cheney and the Republicans, that surplus was destroyed and skyrocketing deficits created. The Republicans still think that’s okay and want to cut the taxes for the rich and corporations while ordinary Americans are expected to pay for it all. The record is clear: The US economy does better under Democrats. IN this video, Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine explains why.

Stumbling Act

It now looks like it was a predictor when it happened: In June 2004, Rodney Hide succeeded Richard Prebble as the leader of the rightwing Act Party. On his way to the podium, Hide tripped, stumbled and nearly fell. History very nearly repeated itself this week.

The Act Party Caucus dumped its deputy leader, Heather Roy—the only woman in the five-person Act caucus in Parliament—and replaced her with one of the three other MPs—all of whom are older white men. In the end, John Boscowen replaced Roy, who had supposedly repeatedly plotted to depose Hide as leader.

Pickings were slim for Act: There was the king of the troglodytes, the truly vile Roger Douglas, but he reportedly can’t stand Hide and, in any case, Prime Minister John Key promised during the 2008 campaign that Douglas would not be allowed any ministerial position. That promise—repeated during the Act turmoil this week—headed off an issue that could have cost National the election (ordinary New Zealanders despise Douglass for what he and his neoconservative mates and corporate elites did to New Zealand in the 1980s).

That left David Garrett, an arrogant, self-righteous prick who is, not coincidentally, racist, sexist and homophobic, or John Boscawen. Boscawen was a main fundraiser for Act, affiliated with the far right Business Roundtable, and hid both facts while organising rallies against electoral finance reform because it would make it harder for them to raise secret donations for rightwing political parties. His campaign also helped to gain pre-election attention for conservative politicians.

So, for Act it was choice between viler, viler and vilest. But did they dump the right leader?

Roy’s ally, Stephen Franks, apparently leaked an 82-page document in which Roy referred to Hide a “bully” and said he was trying to intimidate her, accused him of undermining her and asserted that she felt that, for her own safety, she couldn’t meet with him alone. After she was deposed and this document released, the party dragged her in front of the TV cameras where she was all soothing calmness—and reminiscent of a Stepford wife.

Today New Zealand Herald columnist John Armstrong said:

“Hide has barely 15 months at most to turn things around both for his party and himself. There is absolutely no room for further error. Even then, you would not want to put money on his succeeding.”

In the 2008 election, Act got only 3.65% of the Party Vote and would not be in Parliament at all if Hide hadn’t won the Epsom electorate seat, and Hide only carried that with 56% of the candidate ballots cast. National deliberately avoided campaigning in the electorate, but still won 22% and Labour won 13%. If National runs a strong candidate, or the centre-left parties do a deal (even if only encrouaging their voters to vote for the National candidate), then Hide is in trouble; if Hide goes, the party is gone (the last poll I saw Act was at less than 2% Party Vote support).

Given the declining fortunes of Act, will the party take their chances on retaining Hide as leader, considering its very existence is at risk? Or will they wait for him to stumble yet again?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gloria’s REALLY empty cup

Australian company Gloria Jeans International is insolvent and should be put into liquidation, the New South Wales Supreme Court has been told, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s the latest chapter in a dispute between Gloria Jeans and a US coffee supplier, Western Export Services.

I can’t say I’m terribly upset by the news. In fact, I might mutter something about karma, if I believed in such things. Still, this is no tale of schadenfreude.

Gloria Jeans International, which controls the company outside of the US and Puerto Rico, has strong ties to Australia’s fundamentalist Hillsong Church. One of the company’s co-owners is an “elder” of the church and the other owner, Peter Irvine, was the former chief executive of Mercy Ministries, another Hillsong project that Gloria Jeans supported financially. Long-time readers will remember when I wrote about all this in 2008.

Mercy Ministries made money by “treating” troubled teenage girls, reportedly using little more than bible study. The US parent of the ministry had an “ex-lesbian” program. In Australia, garden-variety fraud killed off Mercy Ministries. Said the SMH:

“In December, Mr Irvine and fellow Mercy Ministry directors admitted engaging in false, misleading and deceptive conduct following an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation into the practices of the Hillsong-connected organisation. They were required to pay $1050 and apologise to each person affected by Mercy Ministries' conduct, all young women with mental health and drug and alcohol problems.”

These are not nice people and they have done incredible harm. It’s hard not to think they made this trouble for themselves because of both factors. However, many—or even most—of the Gloria Jeans franchisees would have been completely unaware of the company’s nefarious connections, and they may suffer because of the sins of the owners. I sincerely hope they’re not destroyed because of the company’s antics.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other choices for coffee. Someday, that may again include Gloria Jeans, but for me today is still not that day.

Tip o' the Hat to Scotty.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fifteen hundred posts

This is my 1500th post on this blog.

It took me two and a half years to reach 1,000 posts, and today's new milestone arrived at a slightly slower pace. That figures, since it’s been difficult for me to keep up my one post per day average this year—not that it matters.

I updated the graphic from my 1,000th post for this post. After nearly four years doing this blog (less than a month until my blogoversary), updating something I posted earlier seemed appropriate.

Asocial media

This should be bloody obvious, but not everything needs to be a “social network”. The Internet Age has become the Facebook Age, where we’re all expected to share everything with everyone all the time.

I know this probably makes me a curmudgeon, but quite frankly there are times I’d really rather not share with my “friends” what I’m reading, watching, listening to or doing. But the demands that I do so are growing more insistent and omnipresent, even if I want to do something simple.

For example, a favourite blogger has been posting the PDFs of the various rulings and motions in California’s Proposition 8 case to Scribd, a site which is supposed to allow users to “Publish your documents quickly and easily.” Trouble is, to download a document one must create an account with them or log-in through Facebook (readers may recall that, amid all the privacy concerns, I shut off all third-party access to my Facebook account). According to Scribd, of course you want to “Discover and connect with people of similar interests.” Um, I can do that on dozens of social networks—just give me the document!

Of course I could search for the relevant court sites myself (and I found the official links in a few seconds), but as a reader I resent a blogger forcing me to do that if I don’t want to use “social networking” to get a public document.

The point here isn’t the blogger’s faux pas, my laziness or even Scribd itself. I simply don’t want another damn social network! There are too many going now, all of them standing alone on the windswept plains of the Internet, interconnecting rarely and weakly. How many log-ins and passwords can one person be expected to remember? I don’t—I write them down. Sue me.

Lately I’ve been feeling increasingly hostile toward “social networks”. I think it was a game that started it: I play Qrank, a trivia game, on my iPod Touch. I like trivia games, and I often do well at them. I used to do well at Qrank, too—until I started playing against folks I’m connected to on various social networks. My scores dropped. Aware I’m ranked against people I actually interact with, I answer a question as fast as I can (the point values decrease the longer you take to answer). Naturally, I often answer too quickly and select the wrong answer.

So, the “social network” aspect of it took the fun out of the game (I’m probably going to delete it altogether soon; I could just “unfriend” everyone, but these networks have trained me to feel bad about doing that). With Scribd, it was being forced to take part in a yet another social network to get a public document.

Enough is enough. Just because something can be done through a social network doesn’t mean it should be. Just because we can share all our intimate details—from what we had for breakfast to how our last bowel movement was—doesn’t mean we should. Sometimes the Internet should just be the Internet, and not endless social networks.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Similar, NOT the same

A proposed change to New Zealand’s Income Taxes would make it similar to the US—and yet, it would be very different.

Peter Dunne, who is Revenue Minister and leader of the mildly conservative United Future Party (a Parliamentary caucus of one), has proposed that couples with children under 18 living at home be allowed to average out their income in order to reduce their income taxes. That’s similar to the US’ “married, filing jointly”, but NZ’s would be limited only to couples with children under 18.

Actually, there’s one other difference from the US that’s huge: It’s not just married couples that could take part (only opposite-sex couples can marry in New Zealand, like most of the US); couples in civil unions or de facto relationships could also take part—same sex couples, in other words, would be included.

To a New Zealander, that’s sort of a duh! moment because the Human Rights Act prevents discrimination against gay people or couples. However, in the US the inability of same-sex couples to marry (and have that marriage recognised by the US Government) means they cannot file jointly; in many cases this means they pay higher taxes than a married couple of the same income.

This disparity is one of the reasons for the push to legalise same-sex marriage in the US. Taxes are only one small part of the many legal advantages that heterosexual couples have over same-sex couples, despite them all being taxpayers and citizens who are supposed to be treated equally under law.

There will be a lively debate on the NZ proposal, and at the moment it looks unlikely to become law. I don’t even have an opinion on it yet. However, this struck me as yet another example of how New Zealand is similar to the US, but NOT the same. Quite frankly, in a number of ways, New Zealand is better—but, then, regular readers of this blog have probably already seen plenty evidence of that.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Recently I was reading a blog post called "The Immigrant Driver" by fellow American-expat-in-New-Zealand, Eby. It was about American immigrants and driving on the other side of the road, a topic I haven't written about.

So, this is how I got my New Zealand driver licence.

When I first came to New Zealand in September 1995, Nigel let me have a go at driving. It was incredibly nerve-wracking, not the least because the car he had at the time was a manual: Not only did I have to sit on the other side of the car to drive on the other side of the road, I also had to shift using my left hand.

When I returned to the US, there were many things to be sorted out, but one thing I ran out of time for was renewing my driver’s licence, which would expire the following January. So I arrived back in New Zealand on November 2 with less than two months of legal driving.

Foreigners can drive in New Zealand for up to 12 consecutive months using their home country’s licence—as long as it’s valid. There was so much to adjust to at the time that, quite frankly, the idea of adding on driving kind of terrified me. So, I didn’t.

In fact, the thing I’m least proud of is that I kept putting off getting my licence. We went to the US in 1997 and I tried to renew my licence then, but it had been too long and I’d have to re-sit the exam and have a behind-the-wheel test; we just didn’t have the time for that. This would’ve mattered because that 12-month period re-sets every time the foreigner leaves and re-enters the country (and, at the time, I wasn’t yet a permanent resident of New Zealand).

So, more time passed. Finally, in early 1999, I decided to do something about it. My motivator (after having had the Road Code for years) was that the government was changing the rules for driving licences, and I wanted to go through the older, easier system. And, I was simply ready. So, in March 1999, I made an appointment for the theory exam (written and oral) for a learner’s permit.

I made a bunch of flashcards with what I thought were likely questions. I studied them and studied them and studied them some more—more than anything I’d ever studied since university, some 15 years earlier. There were times I was so nervous I felt sick, but I kept at it.

On Thursday, March 25, I passed the theory exam and became a Learner (even though I’d been licensed in Illinois for 20 years). I immediately booked my test for the practical license exam (on road) right then. At the time, someone who was 25 or older could skip a Restricted Licence and go immediately for a Full Licence, which is what I planned.

In the meantime, Nigel was encouraging, but I didn’t like practising driving with him because to me it was like having my father in the passenger seat, or maybe it was his searching for a non-existent brake on the passenger side (I’m joking about the brake part).

About a month later, I was back. When the examiner and I were going to the car, he said to me, "You've been driving for years!" I said yes, and that I'd let my US licence expire. He inspected the car, and soon we were away. Basically, I did a fifteen-minute drive in a big loop—no manoeuvres at all, no parallel parking, so three-point turnabout, or backing around corners, or hill starts, or anything—things I was expecting and in some cases had practiced for. Nigel said later that he would’ve assumed I knew how to do all those manoeuvres, and what he was really interested in was whether I could competently and confidently handle the car on the left side of the road.

So, Friday, April 23, 1999—nearly three and a half years after I arrived, I finally got my New Zealand licence. Had I taken care of this while my US licence was still valid, or within the year of it expiring, I only would’ve needed to swap it for a New Zealand licence. That embarrasses me still, even though I didn’t know that at the time.

A short time later, I got my “lifetime” paper licence in the mail, something the government later took away, replacing them with licences people had to renew every ten years (they also required that drivers carry their licence with them when driving).

In 1999, we went back to the US on holiday and rented a car while we were in Chicago. I did all the driving—the first time in nearly four years that I’d driven in the US. We survived.

It would be another four years, roughly, before we got a second car and I started driving regularly. Now, I don’t think twice about it—but I still don’t want to drive Nigel anywhere.

The sign at the top of this post was outside Wai-o-Tapu thermal reserve near Rotorua. Similar signs, and directional arrows painted on the road to show which way traffic goes in which lane, are at many tourist areas (and some not-so-tourist areas, too). Fortunately, I don’t need those reminders.

The thing is, after all these years driving in New Zealand, I’m not sure how I’d handle driving on the right side of the road again because for me it would be, well, wrong. Life’s weird like that.

See also my earlier post with video, Driving in New Zealand. The photo above is my own.

Friday, August 13, 2010

No friggatriskaidekaphobia

One thing you may as well know about me: I’m not superstitious. While I may throw a pinch of spilled salt over my shoulder, it’s merely out of a sense of connection to my ancestors: I neither believe in, nor pay any attention to, anything “supernatural”.

I’m so sceptical about things that can’t be examined scientifically that I even put the word supernatural in quote marks, as if to suggest that I don’t believe in such a thing. Actually, I don’t—with all that implies for traditional concepts of religion.

This is not the same thing as NOT believing: My mother was fond of quoting Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” I think that set me up to be an agnostic about most things supernatural—I don’t believe, but neither do I dismiss.

One day I probably should post about the journey that led me to this place where I find belief in the supernatural to be unnecessary. For now, suffice it to say that Friday the 13th is for me, always, just another day, falling between Thursday the 12th and Saturday the 14th.

What about you?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Australian Time Warp

This ad is from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and kind of sums up some of the headline issues in the election. Now the ALP is a bit too conservative for me, but at least they’re not the Liberal/National Coalition once headed by the defeated John Howard (he’s the skeleton in the coffin at the start).

In the 2005 New Zealand elections, the New Zealand National Party tried a cartoon ad campaign that was really lame. The ALP commercial is much better (though you do have know about Australian political issues for it to make sense). Sometimes a bit of pointed fun can get a point across better than an ad that’s dour and intense, something I wish the New Zealand Labour Party would learn.

At any rate, this gives me the opportunity to share one of my favourite things: Political advertising, electoral advertising in particular.

Update 13/08/10: The video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Richard O'Brien, better know as Riff Raff, the author of the Rocky Horror Show (where the Time Warp song comes from). I'm disappointed, but not surprised in an age where copyright trumps all. Still, the first time I saw the video you can't see, I wondered if they'd secured the right to use the song. Apparently not, which is just sloppy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

5 more useless phrases

How many different ways can people say nothing?

Last month I posted 5 useless political phrases in which I talked about some favourite empty phrases used by the political right, especially in the US. Today I’m listing five more empty phrases.

This lot is a mixed bag used by all sorts of folks, including commentators, politicians and journalists, among others. Whoever uses them, the phrases have one thing in common: They’re all empty and useless.

So here’s today’s list of empty phrases, this time ranked from my current most-disliked to the one that bothers me the least:

1. “On our watch/on my watch”. The phrase implies both responsibility and authority—power to control. Excuse me, but who appointed you watchers-in-chief? I’m thinking especially of the right-wing nutjobs who are the self-appointed arbiters of all that’s moral and in accordance with the US Constitution, but any use is stupid and beyond clichéd.

2. “Boots on the Ground”. You mean “there,” moron—simple words work better than clichés—try them! This phrase became a staple of journalism at the start of the Bush/Cheney wars and is now used extensively. Personally, I’d like to lift that boot off the ground and deposit it on the backside of anyone using this annoyingly empty phrase.

3. “Many people say…” Oh yeah? Prove it! This phrase (or similar variants) is merely a vague version of the fallacious argument known technically as argumentum ad populum, false arguments in which the speaker tries to suggest that an assertion the speaker is making is true and valid because “many people” believe it to be so. The problem is that there’s no supporting or corroborating evidence presented, so the listener/reader has no way of evaluating if, in fact, “many people” are saying anything like what’s being asserted. The problem with the underlying argument is that even if it were true about what the majority (or simply “many people”) think, it would boil down to “might makes right”.

4. “Remains to be seen,” as in, “Whether this happens or not remains to be seen.” Well, duh! Is there any more self-evident phrase used by journalists, TV journalists in particular? This one has long been on my list of empty phrases because like a weed, it just can’t be killed off.

5. “At the end of the day.” This phrase allegedly originated in New Zealand in rugby commentary (as in the semi-joking, “at the end of the day, it was a game of two halves and rugby was the winner”). I don’t actually dislike this phrase (or like it, either…), but it is empty. Mostly, I wanted to re-assert the alleged etymology of the phrase because, at the end of the day, New Zealand can always use a little world recognition.

So that’s my latest list of useless phrases. I wonder if I should list useless politicians? Nah, it’d be impossible to limit it to only five.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The country life

Many of my posts have been inspired by other people’s blogs, and today’s is that sort of post. One of my new expat buddies, Juli, wrote a post on her blog about architecture in Wellington (lovely city—everyone should visit it). At the end, she wrote:
“When I first came to New Zealand, I spent most of my time in Wellington. I still enjoy going to ‘town’. But after a few years, I was drawn to a New Zealand that I found in rural villages, in the bush, and at the beach. I no longer hear the siren call of the cities.”
This is probably a common-enough feeling among American expats I’ve heard about. New Zealand’s largest city—Auckland—has about 1.4 million people in it, which isn’t all that big by US standards. So I think it’s safe to say that most Americans who move to New Zealand don’t do so for city life.

On the other hand, Auckland has about a quarter of the entire population of New Zealand, so it’s big by our standards. Yet it has no single identity as other world cities do. Currently governed by eight separate councils, the city will come under a new unified Auckland Council in November. If Auckland ever gains an identity as Auckland, it’ll start being created after that.

Other cities in New Zealand are quite different, and not just because they’re much smaller. Wellington, for example, has a much more compact CBD than Auckland, which makes it much more walkable.

Much of rural New Zealand is farming country, tied to a town that forms the service centre for the district. It may have banks, farm supply stores, offices of local government and a memorial hall, among other things.

We lived in Paeroa in the Hauraki District for a couple years. The District, with a total population less than the town I grew up in, had three main settlements: Ngatea, Paeroa and Waihi, along State Highway 2, the main road connecting Auckland with Tauranga.

Most of rural New Zealand is conservative by New Zealand standards; in American terms, it’s mostly like “Blue Dog Democrats”, not Republicans (and it has nothing to do with religious conservatism at all). This means they tend to vote for the New Zealand National Party, almost without exception. For example, in 2002—the worst election for National in decades—it wasn’t that rural voters voted for Labour, it’s that they didn’t bother to vote at all. I was happy that the booth I voted at in 2005, Paeroa’s Memorial Hall, had among the highest votes for Labour in the electorate, but National won the electorate handily.

Things tend to move slowly in rural areas. Shops in Paeroa closed promptly at 5pm, few eating establishments were open in the evening, most of the town was closed on Sunday and much of it on Saturday, too, or they closed around midday on Saturday.

This was a problem for us because we were renovating our house. If we needed something from a hardware store on a Saturday afternoon or on Sunday, we had to drive to Waihi (easily the better part of an hour round trip) because the two hardware stores in town were closed.

The way to deal with that was to plan ahead: A Saturday or Sunday trip to Hamilton, the largest city close to Paeroa (45 minute drive or so each way), to pick up things at the home centres there—or furniture stores, or whatever else we needed. I also planned trips into Thames (half hour drive each way) for paint (sometimes bringing my mother-in-law with me so we could have lunch). We could also order things in over the Internet, but that could take many days.

If we weren’t renovating a house, this may not have mattered, but I was also used to Auckland where pretty much anything we needed was available every day. Some people don’t care about such things, or they appreciate the many things that rural life has to offer (like wide open spaces, for example, or fewer people and no real traffic).

But there was one more thing: Anonymity, or rather, the lack of it. One can be invisible in a city, but in a small town everyone knows your business. In Auckland, we felt we could just get on with life, but in Paeroa it was a bit like being “the only gays in the village”, though that was absolutely not literally true. No one ever made us feel uncomfortable (the opposite, in fact), but we were aware that small town gossip can do a lot of harm, and so we probably overcompensated in our efforts to remain private.

I think part of that is a generational thing, with younger gays, accustomed to expecting full acceptance, possibly approaching it all differently. But the detachment of city life, the lack of connection to the neighbours, I realised, were things I actually liked—that, and the easy availability of goods and services. Having said all that, we enjoyed our time in Paeroa.

Rural life, like city life, isn’t for everyone. I think the key is realising what you like and want, then finding the best environment for it. For me, it’s urban, and Auckland—spread out, messy, diverse and fragmented though it is—is perfect for me (for now…). One thing experience has taught me is, “never say never”.

Photos: Top photo is of Paeroa’s main road in January, 2005. The trees were later all cut down when they rebuilt the footpaths. The photo below is of Hubbard Road, just outside of town, taken around the same time. It connects State Highway 2 and the Thames Road, providing an alternative route to the Coromandel during Christmas, when traffic backs up for kilometres leading back from the one-lane Kopu Bridge (soon to be replaced). Hubbard Road was part of my regular route to and from Thames.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Taking a stand

New Zealand’s local elections are coming up. At the moment, there’s a drive on to get people registered to vote and, at the same time, they’re recruiting candidates for the elections.

Unlike the US, in New Zealand both citizens and permanent residents who are 18 and above are eligible to register vote. Actually, voter registration is mandatory in New Zealand, though voting itself is not (unlike Australia). The rolls close on August 20.

Running for office is also quite open. According to the “Making a Stand” booklet (link to the PDF) prepared by Local Government New Zealand:

“You must be a New Zealand citizen and enrolled on the parliamentary electoral roll (anywhere in New Zealand) and have lived at your current address for at least one month. You do not need to live in the area in which you wish to stand.”

Getting on the ballot is more involved:

“You will need two people to nominate you (on the official nomination form) and send your completed form to the electoral officer for your local council. You must consent to your nomination going forward (by signing the nomination form) and you cannot nominate yourself. Those who nominate you must be over 18 years old and enrolled to vote in the area you wish to stand in. When you send in the nomination form you will need to pay a $200 (incl GST) deposit.

"The deposit may be refunded depending on how many votes you receive in the election and the particular type of election. The deposit is refunded if the number of votes you receive is greater than 25 per cent of the lowest successful candidate for that particular election (for First Past the Post elections) or greater than 25 per cent of the final quota as determined in the last iteration (for Single Transferable Voting elections).”

Among other things in there is the reference to two different voting systems. That’s because both systems are used in local elections in New Zealand, and Local Government New Zealand has a lot of information about all that.

Once the rolls and nominations close, the ballots are mailed out, because local elections are conducted by postal ballot. The Voting documents will be delivered between 17-22 September, and all ballots are due back by 12 noon on 9 October. The results will be announced between 11-20 October, and the new elected officials take office around November 1.

This year, of course, eight local councils in the Auckland region will cease to exist and the new Auckland Council will come into being instead. That’s a very big deal, and it makes all this stuff far more important, a much bigger deal, than it’s ever been for Aucklanders before. Hopefully, they’ll take that responsibility and importance to heart.

Meanwhile, on the fringe

I originally heard about these two over at Joe.My.God. in a non-video post. Going on the text excerpt provided, I commented on what appeared to be their internalised homophobia because “supporting a ‘movement’ that wants to force us back into the closest doesn't sound like the healthiest choice to me.” Others were far harsher—and a few comments actually offended even me.

I now think I judged too harshly. In the video above—from a tea party YouTube channel—the two explain their thinking in a little more detail. The one on the left (who seems better versed in the issues) talks about getting government out of the marriage business altogether, requiring instead that all people have civil unions, and leaving churches to perform marriages for whoever they want to. I’ve talked about the same thing many times.

However, he makes an assumption typical of folks at the ends of the spectrum, namely, assuming that everyone who agrees with you on a point or two is really the same as you. Very few people are wholly one thing or another and, in fact, are somewhere near the middle (even if they’re squarely on one side of centre or the other). What these two don’t seem to understand is that people stake out a political position, and preferred party/candidate, based on the totality of evidence.

It’s well-known that in the US gay people tend to support Democrats and the Democratic Party far more than they do Republicans. This isn’t because they’re blind or have “drunk the kool-aid” (in my opinion, using that phrase should be a capital offence). Rather, it’s because most Republican politicians are anti-gay, usually strongly, whereas Democrats are—at the very worst—only mildly anti-gay or—far more likely—moderately or actively pro-gay. Republican party activists call their politicians who aren’t strongly anti-gay “RINO” (Republican In Name Only).

For gay voters, as with any other minority, it’s a case of enlightened self-interest: Voting for the least harmful candidate—or, with luck, the most helpful. Nearly every time, that candidate will be a Democrat. This will remain the case until being gay is no longer a reason for persecution and until GLBT people finally have full legal equality. For gay conservatives, gay issues aren’t important, either at all or not as much as other issues.

These two whining about how they’re treated in gay bars sounded a bit precious to me: Those evil liberal gay people disagreed with them, and were being mean to them. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that perception was imagined, and what they may have done or said that could’ve been considered provocative. Still, some people can be incredibly intolerant of people with whom they disagree, and gay people are no different—regardless of whether they’re on the left or the right.

I admit that I still don’t understand how any gay people could align with the teabaggers; that once libertarian movement has become thoroughly co-opted by the christianist, extremist far right, and their vision of America doesn’t include us as full and equal citizens (and some want to quite literally destroy us).

Nevertheless, I think that these two, believing as they do, can do good for the greater community by being there proudly and forcing some of the homophobes in their movement to confront their bigotry. Every activist I’ve ever known has said that the single most important thing necessary for us to achieve full legal equality is for gay people to be everywhere and known by everyone. I believe that gay conservatives can help in the overall goal of achieving that familiarity, even if I disagree with their positions on various issues.

If we’re truly about freedom and liberty for gay people, then we must also support the right of gay people to be politically active as conservatives, too. They confuse me, they frustrate me, I think they're naive and I will work in opposition to their political agenda, but I absolutely support their rights, too. It would be hypocritical not to, I think.

But I’ll still keep trying to convince them they’re wrong, of course.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Prop 8: One for the good guys

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis,the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."

– Vaughn R Walker, United States District Chief Judge, in his decision in Perry v Schwarzenegger, declaring California's infamous Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

International connections

A weeks ago or so, I got an email about this blog. I didn’t take much notice at the time—I was busy and, frankly, I’ve started getting a lot of emails from sites wanting to list me for maximised search results. Or something.

So when I saw an email from GoOverseas.com telling me that my blog had been “selected as one of the top travel related blogs in New Zealand,” I wasn’t sure how seriously to take it. But then a curious thing happened: I started being followed here (and on Twitter) by folks I didn’t know, but who were also expats in New Zealand.

It turns out that we’re all listed on that site, as the picture shows (and this is why the GoOverseas.com badge suddenly popped up on my sidebar). Up until then, I’d only heard of one of those blogs, and I already had it bookmarked. I’ve had fun checking out the others listed, and trading comments/Tweets with these other expats.

I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, but hey, we’re all friends here, right? At first I didn’t notice that the list isn’t a ranking—it’s alphabetical. In my defence, the list IS labelled “Top Blogs in New Zealand” and the email told me:

“As recognition of your outstanding writing skills we are delighted to include your blog in a select list of websites representing New Zealand. We select only the most exceptional blogs that meet our exacting standards and we hope you feel a sense of pride that you have been recognized for your efforts.”

But, in truth, I don’t really care about rankings and such, as is probably pretty obvious when I write about whatever interests me at the moment, not simply what might draw visitors. And, I’m never afraid of saying what I think about, well, anything.

What does interest me is that this turned out to be a way to make connections with other expats in New Zealand, and I value that. Before I started this blog I’d never actually met another American living here, apart from the occasional clerk in a shop. Now, I interact with several, have met a few and became real-life friends with Dawn and Darren, though we don’t get to see them enough, living on the opposite sides of the North Island.

So these new international connections have made the whole thing worthwhile for me, whether I gain any new readers or not. I’ll eventually update my blogroll to include these expat blogs, but for now, go to the listings on GoOverseas.com and check out the others on the list.

From now on, I think I’ll pay more attention to my emails, too.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Many Odd Questions

I was up late (far too late) working last night and don’t have the energy (or time, to be honest) for a regular blog post today. So, I stole this meme from Roger Green. The reason is buried in one of the answers.

1. First thing you wash in the shower?
My hair and beard.

2. What colour is your favourite hoodie?
My only hoodie is gray. I never wear it because it’s a pullover one.

3. Would you kiss the last person you kissed again?
Well, duh! It was my husband.

4. Do you plan outfits?
Not unless it’s a special event so I can make sure it’s all clean and ironed.

5. How are you feeling RIGHT now?
Very tired, but otherwise good.

6. What’s the closest thing to you that’s red?
One of those red plastic “milk crates” I’m using to sort papers for filing away.

7. Tell me about the last dream you remember having?
I can’t remember having any dreams lately, even though I know I’ve had some. That isn’t unusual for me.

8. Did you meet anybody new today?

9. What are you craving right now?
Nothing—I just had lunch.

10. Do you floss?
No. I have some teeny-tiny brushes I use instead.

11. What comes to mind when I say cabbage?
Coleslaw. Or corned beef/silverside. Or freaky dolls.

12. Are you emotional?
Can be. More so as I get older.

13. Have you ever counted to 1,000?
No. Why would I want to? I used to count to 100 in German to practice speaking, though.

14. Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it?
I lick cones. I use a spoon for ice cream in a bowl.

15. Do you like your hair?
Not really, even when it was all there.

16. Do you like yourself?

17. Would you go out to eat with George W. Bush?
Well, I would, but I’m sure I’d be escorted outside the minute I asked him if he was really such a fuckwit or if it was all Cheney’s doing.

18. What are you listening to right now?
Rain falling outside my window.

19. Are your parents strict?
They weren’t really, and less so the older they/I got.

20. Would you go skydiving?
You first.

21. Do you like cottage cheese?
Yes. Unlike Roger, I’m not keen on having it with fruit.

22. Have you ever met a celebrity?
Yes. George Bush the First, Joe Biden (when he was a Senator), a few Senators and Governors. I got Lily Tomlin’s autograph.

23. Do you rent movies often?

24. Is there anything sparkly in the room you’re in?
This is why I stole this meme: On my desk I have a little wizard statue that a friend gave me many years ago.

25. How many countries have you visited?
Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Oh, and Texas (cuz, “it’s like a whole other country…”).

26. Have you made a prank phone call?
Not in the better part of four decades.

27. Ever been on a train?
Only in the US—so far.

28. Brown or white eggs?
Rarely see white eggs in New Zealand, so they seem weird when I do. But, it doesn’t matter—as long as they’re free-range.

29. Do you have a cell-phone?
Of course. Just today we were reminiscing about how 15 years ago I had to carry around “phone cards” so I could make calls from any pay phone. Apparently, there are people who collect those phone cards (of course there are…).

30. Do you use Chap Stick?

31. Do you own a gun?
Of course not. Most ordinary New Zealanders would never even think of having a gun (apart from farmers, hunters and people into shooting sports).

32. Can you use chopsticks?
Yep. I go through periods where I use them once a week or so.

33. Who are you going to be with tonight?
My husband and our fur babies.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Getting things done

When was the last time you did something new online? Last week I did two things I’d never done before, though I’ve done similar things: I ordered a Kindle edition of a book from Amazon and I paid Jake’s registration online.

The dog registration was no big deal, really: We already pay all our other taxes electronically one way or another. But Jake’s registration was due last Friday and I didn’t really want to take the time to find our local office to pay it, mostly because it would’ve taken quite a bit of time once you add in parking and so on.

The book was something entirely different, though buying songs through iTunes is similar. My motivation was that one of my gay podcaster friends is planning a book club, and I thought it might be fun to take part.

The problem is, as I’ve written about before, books are expensive in New Zealand. A new paperback retails for between $25-$35 (US$18.23 to US$25.52), though I’ve seen recently-released paperback books as high as $55 (US$40.11). That’s a bit high to take a punt on a book I may not even like.

The paperback version was available through Whitcoulls for $34.95 (roughly US$25.49). Whitcoulls recently launched an ebooks store, complete with iPad application, but a digital version isn’t available through them. Fishpond.co.nz had the paperback, too, but for $35.99. These were not options.

Enter Amazon.

The paperback book was on special, but there’s international shipping and possible import duty and/or GST on top of that, so the price becomes less attractive. The Kindle version, however, was only US$10.57, or today about NZ$14.50—about 42% of the paper price, with no duty or GST payable. That’s a powerful motivator to go digital.

I already had the Kindle app on my iPod Touch and the Mac desktop version of the software is now available. So, I downloaded it, installed it, and then used it to access Amazon to buy the book. In seconds it was downloaded on my Mac (shockingly easy, actually). Later, I downloaded it to my iPod Touch, too, which is where I’m reading it.

Amazon never sealed a deal for wireless service for the Kindle in New Zealand, but it now sells the devices here, anyway. That’s nice, but I’m holding out for an Apple iPad, precisely because I want to use it as an e-reader (among other things). I can read the iPod Touch screen, but the iPad would be much better.

I know there are many people who are uneasy about the whole e-publishing thing, and I’ll come back to this subject again. But for readers in a small country on the edge of the world, Kindle editions are a great way to get books that would be far too expensive otherwise—which means we can read even more.

The only trouble I have, of course, is that I’m a slow reader, and none of these technologies fix that. They make my wallet happy, though.

Update 03 August 2010: Jake's new tag arrived in the post today. So, I paid on their website on Friday, they posted the tag yesterday and I received it today. Pretty convenient!