Saturday, December 31, 2011

Visual reminders

Here are two videos, each presenting quick visual reviews of what was a remarkable year.

The video above, “2011: The Year In 100 Seconds”, is from Talking Points Memo. They do a series of these “in 100 seconds” videos to give a quick visual tour of a subject. They’re available on their tmptv Channel on YouTube.

The video below is from Google Zeitgeist. In a lot of ways, it seems like just an extended commercial for Google products—but when you consider the role those products played in the events shown (Google search and YouTube in particular), it seems strangely appropriate. I commented on the Google Zeitgeist for New Zealand a couple weeks ago.

I like both these videos, for somewhat different reasons, so I decided to post them both. But the thing I like best in both of them is the final line in Google’s video: We made it. Any time we can say that at the end of the year, it is, everything else aside, a very good thing, indeed.

Let’s see what we can do with 2012.

Changing things

I like change. I think it’s exciting. So the one time of year when change is celebrated—New Year’s—is probably my favourite time of all. That makes it an especially good time for me to make changes.

A couple days ago, I mentioned changes, including some personal ones I may or may not talk about on this blog. Here now are the other changes:

I’ll begin with an epiphany I had recently: Politics is bad for me. Every time there’s an election, and things don’t go the way I want, even when I know in advance that’s what will happen, it gets me down. That’s not helpful. So, I’m re-evaluating how I approach politics both on this blog and in life.

Earlier this year, I talked about my “two-day rule”, a deliberate delay in posting about things that rile me up. This has been very helpful; in fact, quite a few would-be angry rants never even made it to rough-draft stage. I’m now applying that to electoral politics, too.

This means that I’ll seldom comment immediately about specific political incidents that anger me, so, more often than not, I won’t say anything at all. With luck, I’ll be more thoughtful and less emotive on the things I do comment on. We’ll see. But if that doesn’t work, I may yet split off US politics onto a separate blog, as I talked about doing last year (that blog still exists, but is set to private).

Related to that, I’ve also decided against getting personally involved in electoral politics apart, maybe, from being a financial member of the Labour Party again. This is actually a pro-Labour position: It’s time younger people took over the party from the old guard, and I’m as old or older than them. It’s because I want the centre-left to succeed that I’m staying out of the way.

However, this also means I’ll be freer to comment on New Zealand politics when I’m not feeling obligated to promote Labour, even when I think they’re wrong (and sooner or later, I probably will). My independence is important to me.

And that brings me to the next area of changes: This blog.

In the New Year, I’ll be linking this blog with my Google Profile, which means that it’ll be associated with my real name (and all the other Google products, like Google+ and YouTube). This actually isn’t a big deal, but it’s important.

When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure how hostile people might be, so I used my “brand” as an online identity. My intention was to maintain some distance, and also to reinforce the “AmeriNZ” brand. In the years since, I’ve been using my real name for most other things—for example, it’s on my podcast site and I mention it when I’m on Nigel’s “The Third Colony” show on FarpointRadio.com. This blog was the main hold-out.

I didn’t change it in part because of the history built-up over five years, but, if I’m truly honest, I left it alone mostly out of laziness. However, during that time I’ve seen politicians, pundits and even mainstream journalists attack what they like to call “anonymous bloggers”. While I’m arguably not truly anonymous because of all those linked places where I use my real name, there nevertheless is an inconsistency there.

I’m proud of much of what I’ve published on this blog, and there are only a few posts I could do without. But I stand behind all of them, even the ones where I’ve changed my mind or that perhaps I could’ve phrased better. That being the case, standing behind them with my real name is the only logical and intellectually honest thing to do.

The name “AmeriNZ” will remain, of course: I’ve put a lot of effort into building that as my personal “brand” over the years. But it will be just that—my personal brand—and I am the person behind the brand.

So that’s it: The main changes I’ve planned for the New Year. That is, that’s it until I come up with more. I really do like change.

The road from Damascus

Recently, my blogging friend Roger Green took on a question I asked about irreligiosity (yes, I know that, technically, that’s not a word, but I think it should be). It was a fascinating post.

What struck me about it, though, were the similarities in our journeys. While his carried him back to Christianity, mine took me in the opposite direction—the road from Damascus, so to speak. So this post is, in a sense, a response to Roger’s.

I should begin at the beginning: I was, quite literally, brought up in the church, as I’ve mentioned before. My first decade (just under) was spent living next door to the church where my dad was the pastor. I was baptised there by my grandfather, also a Lutheran minister, who screwed up my name; maybe that should have been an early sign of things to come.

Just after Christmas when I was nine (I turned ten the next month), my family moved to a new town so my dad could take up a new position as pastor at another church. I was confirmed in that church and eventually taught Sunday School and was in charge of the acolytes (the kids who assisted at services—lighting and extinguishing candles, collecting empty communion glasses, those sorts of things). As a side point, I was in charge when for the first time girls were allowed to be acolytes; I was proud of that.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Remembering birthdays

Today would have been my mother’s 95th birthday. It’s been on my mind for days, and this particular one arrives in a period during which both my parents have been on my mind a lot. These days, that’s kind of unusual.

Three years ago, I wrote about my mother’s birthday, how she felt about it and how I tried to respond to that. I didn’t specify back then, but I was mainly talking about how I acted when I was a kid. By the time I became a teenager, I’m not sure I was as thoughtful or concerned; I wish I could remember better, but a lot of those years are now a bit blurry.

The problem is arithmetic: Both my parents have been dead a very long time (I’ve never been a fan of euphemisms about death, like “passed away”, etc.; I think they just screw up our attitudes toward the inevitable end of life). I’ve lived some three decades without them, after only about two with them, so the number of years, combined with my own aging, means that memory fades, and the times I think about either one of them become rarer.

Last month, however, I was missing my parents, and the specific cause was, oddly enough, New Zealand’s election.

I remembered talking a lot with my parents, my mother in particular (at least until what turned out to be the final years of my father’s life), and as I got older those conversations were often about political issues or electoral campaigns. For example, I tried to convince my mother to stop buying Florida orange juice because their spokeswoman at the time was Anita Bryant, who was in the midst of her anti-gay hate crusade (I was a closeted teen at the time). My mother didn’t join the boycott because my father, recently diagnosed with diabetes, was on a strict diet and orange juice was part of it; I think she thought avoiding one state’s product was too difficult with all the other things she had to take into account, and I didn’t press the point.

However, neither my mother nor father ever dismissed what I had to say, or told me to be quiet, even though I had far less life experience than they did, and very little of my own. If they ever thought that I was naive or immature or my views simplistic, they never said so, even though some of my views had to be one or all of those things at least sometimes.

I eventually realised that by encouraging me to think, to discuss and to debate, they nurtured my growing interest in all things political, something that would lead first to my political activism and, ultimately, to this blog, my podcasting and continuing discussions.

Still, while I miss being able to discuss things with my parents, I’m grateful to them that I have the passion to talk about political things. Politics is part of who I am; clearly my parents recognised that when I was still quite young. No wonder I miss them.

So, today is my mother’s birthday and I’m talking about the gifts I got from her. That’s because I obviously can’t give her gifts anymore, so my remembering and noting what she gave me is the best I can do.

So, happy birthday mom—and thanks for the gifts.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Garth riddance

Serial plagiarist Garth George has finally penned his last column for Granny Herald. It’s way past time.

Garth is a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, often taking the negative viewpoint, apparently, just because it is negative. If not, it sure seemed that way.

Garth was anti-women, anti-gay—in fact, he was against anything that didn’t smack of a 1950s rigid white, Christian, male-centred world. The world moved on, but Garth never did. He alluded to that in his (thankfully) final column for the Herald, where he allowed that he wrote “from a standpoint at odds with that generally accepted by the populace.” In other words, he was hopelessly out of touch. No wonder the Herald fired him.

That final column also bemoaned the fact that modern journalists and news photographers don’t wear a suit and tie. That he should focus squarely on attire, not ability, and the attire of men alone, says pretty much all that needs to be said about how out of it Garth had become.

What was most offensive about his last column—and nearly every column had something offensive—was his talk about inequality as if it was only about economics. Garth tried to perpetuate legal inequality in New Zealand and was quite proud to do so—there is no other possible interpretation of his treating women like children in reproductive choice or his long anti-gay record.

Sadly, Garth will continue to have columns in a couple of the Herald’s provincial papers. The good news is that it’ll be off the main Herald website, the bad news is that provincial New Zealand will still be subjected to his sexist, homophobic and christofascist bile. With luck, this will only be temporary, a way to ease him out without summarily firing him, no matter how much he deserves it.

Still, at least Auckland and the parts if the country that read the Herald are rid of this loathsome troglodyte. Having him off the Herald website will spare New Zealand international embarrassment, which is also good.

To sum up, I will not miss his columns at all. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Related: Dangerous Garth

2011 Marriage Equality Year in Review

In this video, Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights—who are leading the fight to have California’s Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional—lays out what was a busy year in the fight for marriage equality. And it certainly was a busy year.

The thing that struck me is how the momentum of the fight has clearly shifted in our direction, further evidence of which can be found in the increasingly shrill and strident tone of our opponents. The fact that polls are now in our favour bodes well for the future, and our success will come sooner, rather than later.

I think the struggle in Australia is a long way from success, however. The move by the Australian Labor Party to endorse marriage equality will go nowhere as long as the anti-gay Julia Gillard is Prime Minister or if Tony Abbott defeats her and the ALP in the next election as everyone expects. It will take a true Labor Prime Minister—or a Greens Prime Minister—for marriage equality to happen in Australia.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, we have only one party—the Greens—who have full marriage equality as party policy. In the last election, the New Zealand Labour Party promised a “review” of relationship laws, but only a partisan could see that as being anything other than small movement in the right direction.

So, in a sense, New Zealand is behind Australia on full marriage equality because our Labour Party doesn’t yet back full equality. It’s not yet known if the new Labour Leader, David Shearer, supports equality or not. For progress to be made, both the party and its leader must be pro-equality, and they must be in government. Yes, New Zealand has civil unions and Australia doesn’t, but separate is never equal.

Still, I like the optimism of this video, the assuredness that victory is inevitable. That’s what I believe, too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A question on irreligiosity

My friend Roger Green periodically asks for questions on his blog. It’s a bit like “Formspring” meets the real world. In any event, he invites readers to ask him anything, so, I did—the gist is, I asked how he deals with the irreligious.

Let me cut to the chase: Roger says that if we say of him, “he’s not so bad, for a Christian” that wouldn’t be a bad thing. In my opinion, as the son and grandson of Lutheran preachers, and now as a former Christian and non-theist, I say Roger is among the most Christian people I have ever encountered. When I imagine people who may yet rescue Christianity from the rightwing political drones who have captured it in the USA and elsewhere, Roger is the sort of person who I imagine may yet do it.

I strongly urge folks read Roger’s response, because it’s masterful, because it lays out completely where a non-troglodyte Christian is, and because he’s a great guy. I cannot recommend the post—or Roger—highly enough.

Hands down

When I was an adolescent, guys’ hands fascinated me. Not in a creepy “there’s a website for that” kind of way, but in more of an aesthetic way. I blame reading.

I read the start of John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud, where he went on and on about how beautiful his son’s hands were. Okay, that I thought was a little creepy, but it did make me notice other guys' hands.

I noticed how boyish younger guys’ (like me at the time) hands were, but older boys had blood vessels visible, probably the bones of their hands, too. I wanted mine to be like that, in the way that a boy wants to be a man, not a kid.

I eventually got there, and the fascination ended. Then, years later, I started worrying about dry skin. Yep—getting older. That’s what made me remember all this, actually: I needed to buy moisturiser to deal with the leathery skin I was seeing on my hands.

It’s not something I ever anticipated, though I probably should have: I remember my mother using moisturiser all the time, my dad occasionally, usually in winter. I should have realised it was my destiny, but I didn’t.

It’s turned out, of course, that there are a lot of things about getting older I didn’t know about and, like finding the right moisturiser, I’ve muddled my way through those, too. Maybe that’s how most people get through the changes brought about by aging.

Next year, I have to get serious about looking after myself as I just couldn’t seem to manage this year. That’s not some sort of New Year’s Resolution (because I don’t believe in those), but rather more of a fact.

I don’t know how much of that effort I’ll share on this blog, mostly because I don’t want to bore anyone, but it does occur to me that there may be readers who are slightly younger than me who are just starting to experience some of these—What? Issues?—and wouldn’t mind the advice (or a heads-up to avoid my failures, which, come to think of it, is probably a more accurate way to put it). We’ll see.

But those changes, no matter how vital they may to me personally, are only some of what I’ll be up to in the New Year. As this year closes out, I’ll talk about some of those other changes here on this blog, because they will affect it (actually, there will be a few blog-specific changes, too).

For now, the important thing is that, for me, change is a good thing. Hands down.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday (observed)

Today is Boxing Day (observed) because Christmas was on Sunday and its legal observance was transferred to Monday, which would have been Boxing Day, so its observance is today. Got that?

Actually, it’s simple: Whenever Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day or January 2 fall on a weekend, the statutory holiday is moved to the following Monday and also Tuesday (if needed). And yet the trading bans—which prohibit most commercial activities, including TV commercials—on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day morning, don’t move. Okay, that bit gets confusing.

In New Zealand, Boxing Day is really nothing more than a day to go shopping (we didn’t go yesterday, but went today instead; we survived). Most big retailers have a “Boxing Day Sale” which lasts until New Year, when they begin—surprise!—New Year’s Sales. Still, the day (or two) after Christmas is traditionally one (or two…) of the biggest trading days retailers have all year.

I’m often asked if I think it’s weird having Christmas in summer, and that question comes from people who have it in winter—usually a real, icky winter of the sort that I left behind. People from warmer climates in the Northern Hemisphere don’t think mild Christmas holidays are so weird.

At any rate, the question has two answers. First, no: After 17 summertime Christmases in New Zealand, that seems normal to me. But the longer answer is that when I first moved to this country, it all seemed weird, not at all Christmasy—in fact, probably un-Christmasy. On the other hand, it also seemed a bit exotic, hot weather and barbecues at Christmas.

So, no, I don’t think having Christmas in summer is weird. In fact, I like it.

Boxing Day, on the other hand, with its uncertain etymology, seems to me a little weird as a holiday. I like the sales, though, and I like the assured day off, so it's definitely a holiday observed by me.

Keeping friends closer

There’s that old expression, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” In politics, that often means doing deals with one’s enemies to keep them from causing trouble. But what about when your “friends” are sometimes the biggest threat?

After the election, John Key stitched-up deals with the lone MP from the Act “Party”, John Banks, and the lone MP from the United Future “Party”, along with the 3 MPs left in the Maori Party Caucus. He needed to do deals since, with only 59 seats, he needed three more seats in order to form government.

John Banks is an ex-National Party MP and former National government cabinet minister. He’s a Nat through and through, so I predict that sometime in the next three years he’ll defect to the National Party—unless some other former National Party “leader” steps forward to “save” the party again. Whatever happens, Banks’ will be John Key’s poodle—safe and reliable.

The same is true with Peter Dunne. The conventional wisdom often repeated by pundits is that Dunne is a Nat, but avoids joining the party because his wife is Labour. His support is almost as rock-solid as Banks, though he’s been known to dig his heals in sometimes.

The Maori Party’s natural home is in coalition with National because they are a conservative party. That’s a problem for them, because Maori voters are not typically supporters of National. If Hone Harawera’s Mana Party ever becomes more than a one-man band or, far more likely, Labour gets its act together, the Maori Party faces extinction, particularly with both its co-leaders leaving next election. Because their hopes for survival will rest on mostly untested candidates, the party isn’t a reliable partner for Key, no matter how friendly and pro-National they may be.

Things aren’t so very different on the left, with the two main parties often seeming to forget that one day they’ll probably need each other to form government. During the election campaign, there was far too much sniping between Labour and the Greens over "stealing" policies. It seems to me a good idea is a good idea and if both parties back a policy, that's twice as good. Who "owns" the policy only interests partisans—it bores voters.

Both parties also need to stop being so precious about their supposed political purity and embrace strategic voting as National has done so effectively, with National voters casting their ballots for non-National candidates to help their party. In Epsom, for example, 60 percent of National voters voted for Banks. 54% of Green voters voted for the National candidate in an attempt to get rid of Banks and Act, but a disgusting 35% of Labour voters did that. Put the other way round, 46% of Greens and 65% of Labour voters in Epsom helped John Banks win that seat. Smart—real smart.

Green voters also got it wrong in Waitakere where 13% voted for National’s Paula Bennett (a higher percentage than in 2008), handing her the win over Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni. Bennett was assured of a seat regardless, but by losing the seat Sepuloni was out of Parliament. No matter how much the left disliked Sepuloni, helping elect Bennett was just stupid.

Still, in general, Green Party voters were clearly smarter about tactical voting than were Labour voters, possibly because they were told the party was only seeking their Party Vote, leaving them free to vote for whoever they wanted to. But I wonder how much of the animus between the two parties affected Green supporters’ votes.

The bottom line, really, is this: A centre-left government will almost certainly require a coalition between Labour and the Greens. They don’t have to like each other, and they certainly don’t need to subsume their separate identities into one. But they do need to learn to work with each other, and especially to act more like friends than adversaries—even though that will probably keep each other closer than they would enemies.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Queen’s 2011 Christmas Broadcast

Above is the 2011 Christmas Broadcast from Her Majesty, the Queen of New Zealand (and other countries).

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

‘Banner’ year for GLBT people

December, and particularly the last week of December, is often a time to look back on the previous year. All sorts of people do it for all sorts of subjects. MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts recently took a look back at what he called “a banner year” for the GLBT rights movement.

Overall, I think he’s right, and I think it’s important to note the positive things that happened. 2012 may have more challenges, but it could turn out even better than this year. I choose to hope for that.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Do they know it’s Christmas?

In late 1984, there probably was no bigger song than “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid (video above). In October 1984, Bob Geldoff saw a BBC report by Michael Buerk highlighting the famine in Ethiopia. He contacted Midge Ure of Ultravox, and the two quickly wrote the song to raise money to help.

The record was made by a who’s who of popular American, British and Irish acts of 1984, and this video captures them in all their youthful glory. Then as now, what struck me about the video is how serious they all look.

I bought the 12" version, which included a lot of extra material, some of which I made fun of (a topic for another day). But among that extra material was an earnest plea from David Bowie that became the answering machine message in December 1984 for me and my then boyfriend.

It’s hard now to listen to it and its often naff lyrics and still remember how seriously we all took the song back in the day. Okay, that’s not true: For me, it’s not hard at all. One listen to the song and I’m transported back to 1984 and feel the earnestness with which it was presented and, if I’m really honest, I may even tear up. Such is the power of emotional memory.

The song and the “Live Aid” concert the following year did raise money, but the problems in Africa didn’t end. It turned out that a song couldn’t fix things, no matter how earnest and sincere the intentions—and they were both sincere and earnest. But for a very brief time, one song helped people to feel a little less powerless and also a little more connected to their fellow humans in dire straits. Whatever Band Aid and their famous song did or didn’t do, that one thing ought to be remembered: For short time, at least, we really did wonder: “Do they know it’s Christmas?”

And, just to update things, here's the Glee cast version. I like it, too. The video "has been removed by the user".

Update: Writing on Salon, Tod Goldberg calls this "The most insufferable Christmas song ever." (Tip o' the Hat to Roger Green for the Salon article). The critique may be harsh, but it's not entirely unwarranted.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It’s not who we are

This ad is from Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, “a bi-partisan, grassroots group comprised of residents and a leadership council of more than 200 civic, business, academic and political leaders” who have come together to try and stop the Republicans who now control the New Hampshire legislature from passing a bill to repeal marriage equality in that state. It’s a good ad.

Most of the organised promotion of the marriage repeal comes, of course, from out of state groups, particularly religious or pseudo-religious groups such as the catholic-aligned National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage, as well as fundamentalist protestant groups. While many of them try and hide their true religious agenda, the promotion of religious bigotry is at their core as they work to impose their narrow beliefs on everyone else.

Marriage equality is about freedom—ensuring that all citizens have the same rights and liberty as every other citizen. Opposing marriage equality is about denying freedom to some people and using religious beliefs to justify it. That’s not only not New Hampshire, it’s also not American and it’s not consistent with the values of freedom and democracy anywhere.

Freedom means nothing without freedom for all citizens. Just as religions are free to refuse to perform/solemnise/recognise/have same-sex marriages, and to speak out against them, so, too, should others be free to perform/solemnise/recognise/have same-sex marriages and to speak out in favour of them. The religious don’t get a free pass just because they claim to have their god on their side, nor do they have the right to force their beliefs on everyone else. That’s the opposite of freedom.

Freedom means freedom. It’s really that simple.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Midweek Diversion: Baby, It's Cold Outside

Above is the music video of a duet by Mister Chase and Chris Salvatore. All proceeds from the sale of the song will go to “organizations to help our youth in need. Programs such as Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, as well as furthering equal rights for the LGBT community.”

The first male duet of this song I saw as on Glee, appropriately enough, and I particularly like the idea of this song sung by two men. I also like their harmonies. Last year I posted another music video by Chris Salvatore, "It Will Get Better".

Only one thing: It’s certainly not cold outside here!

Marriage ins and outs

Barely half of American adults are legally married, and those who do get married are waiting longer, according to a new study from Pew Research. And you know why fewer people are marrying, don’t you? It’s all the fault of Teh Gays™!

In a recent Tweet (pictured; the article he linked to is here), ex-Republican US Senator and current crackpot presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that this was “1 effect of changing definition of marriage”. Uh huh. While Santorum has never displayed even a passing familiarity with logic, this one is pretty bizarre, even for him. The people who are working and fighting so hard for the right to be legally married are responsible for the decline in marriage rates generally. Riiiiiiight…

The people who actually value facts, reason and logic, Pew Research, have said that there’s too little evidence to say what, specifically, is going on or “whether today’s young adults are abandoning marriage or merely delaying it.” They also note that fully 72% of Americans have been married at least once, and that a clear majority of never-married people—61%—would like to marry one day.

In other countries, marriage isn’t necessarily important. In New Zealand, for example, any couple—same sex or opposite sex—that has lived together for three years is automatically covered by the Relationships (Property) Act, which governs how property is divided in the event a relationship ends. Such couples—called de facto in New Zealand—have many of the other rights and privileges of registered couples, though only marriage and civil unions gives full family status to partners.

But even in the US, a couple being married is no longer a social requirement and more people are choosing to live alone or as an unmarried couple, and those who do marry wait longer to do so. Isn’t freedom of choice something conservatives ought to be cheering? They would be if they weren’t so hellbent on forcing their religious beliefs onto everyone else.

What this and other research clearly shows is that marriage still has value to people. What’s changing is not the “definition” as Ricky and his cronies think—it’s still legally defined as the union of two consenting adults—but the way people approach it, when they become married and what they expect from it. Normal people, in other words, have a far more mature and rational view of marriage than does Rick Santorum.

Actually, come to think of it, normal people have a far more mature and rational view of everything than does Rick Santorum. We don’t need any research to underscore that point.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The story behind the story

Last month, I posted a video called “It’s Time”, which was made in support of marriage equality in Australia. I think it’s the best video on this subject yet made—it’s so good, in fact, that a version for the United States is in the works.

Yesterday, the team that made the video for GetUp, Motion Picture Company, posted a video on the making of “It’s Time”. It talks about the decisions that went into making the video, how it was created, and so on. I thought it was quite interesting.

And anything that helps promote the “It’s Time” video is, to me, a good thing.

Real enough

This past Sunday, I blogged about a stunt by a rightwing catholic and his group and, because of Poe’s Law, I wondered if they might be parodies. Sadly, it turns out they’re real.

Arthur Skinner, the guy who slashed the billboard, apparently attended a Marist school, which could explain his fixation with Mary. Perhaps as a result, he has a long history of belligerent confrontation promoting rigid catholic orthodoxy:

In 1998, he organised protests at Te Papa in Wellington over the museum displaying “Virgin in a Condom”, an artwork that I personally thought was stupid and provocation for its own sake, but I also remember that because religious conservatives were demanding not only that the exhibit be removed, but also that museum director be fired, I sided with the museum. As I would.

In 2000, Skinner led extremist catholics in a demand that Auckland catholic bishop, Patrick Dunn, be fired by the pope if he didn’t recant something he said about contraception. Acknowledging that edicts of the Roman church applied only to church members, he said that while, like the Roman church, he was completely opposed to artificial contraception, he nevertheless thought that non-catholics who were “sleeping around” should protect themselves and use contraception.

Dunn’s position in 2000 was sensible, reaffirming Rome’s orders to catholics, while recognising that non-catholics weren’t obliged to obey. Nowadays, of course, the Roman church has become virtually indistinguishable from fundamentalist protestants in that it feels it can not only tell non-catholics how to live, but that it also has the right to use everything at its disposal—money, captive audience at masses, instructions from church officials—to try and force their views on everyone through promoting or opposing legislation or public officeholders.

What this means is that while Skinner was completely outside the mainstream in 1998 and partly outside it in 2000, he’s now just somewhat more conservative than the church generally.

On Sunday, I praised Auckland’s catholic church for saying the correct things about the billboard defacement. I spoke too soon. It turns out the same spokeswoman said, “Once again, St Matthew’s shows us that they have moved away from traditional Christianity, even though their hearts might be in the right place.” Condescending, much? It’s also only a milder version of Skinner’s calling them a “church—so called”.

St. Matthew’s resisted the temptation to rise to the bait, and declined to press charges. The church noted that Skinner was taking his action in order to gain publicity, and in the hope he would be arrested. Basically, St. Matthew’s wasn’t going to give him the attention he sought. Wise move.

Still, there is a bright spot in this stupid saga, something familiar: As is almost always the way when rightwingers seek to curtail other’s freedom of expression, St. Matthew’s billboard ended up being seen by far more people than could ever have been possible otherwise, and the message they were trying to convey was reported throughout the world. Good work, Skinner!

So, yeah, it turns out that Skinner is real, and his group is, too (more or less, at least). Considering how much he’s done to further the work and message of those he opposes, it’s easy to see why I could’ve thought he was a parody. The joke, however, is apparently on him.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Catholic parody?

Every time I read or hear about some crazy fundamentalist person or group doing something crazy, which is generally why they’re called “crazy”, I think of this:
“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.”
That’s called Poe’s Law, and it refers to things on the Internet, but it seems to me it applies equally to real life. The essence of Poe’s Law is that because extremism is extreme, any parody must also be extreme, making it impossible to tell the two apart. More instructive, in real life in particular, is its corollary: Legitimate fundamentalist action or belief will often be mistaken for parody.

So I’m unsure whether Poe’s Law is in play in Auckland.

St. Matthew-in-the-City, a progressive Anglican church, put up another billboard that the religiously precious find challenging. This year, that appears to include Roman Catholics, who until recent years have not been thought of as being very similar to protestant fundamentalists.

The church said of the billboard, pictured above:
This billboard portrays Mary, Jesus’ mother, looking at a home pregnancy test kit revealing that she is pregnant. Regardless of any premonition, that discovery would have been shocking. Mary was unmarried, young, and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future. She was certainly not the first woman in this situation or the last.

As in the past it is our intention to avoid the sentimental, trite and expected to spark thought and conversation in the community. This year we hope to do so with an image and no words. We invite you to wonder what your caption might be.

Although the make-believe of Christmas is enjoyable—with tinsel, Santa, reindeer, and carols—there are also some realities. Many in our society are suffering: some through the lack of money, some through poor health, some through violence, and some through other hardships. The joy of Christmas is muted by anxiety.
I’m including so much of the church’s explanation because I doubt many people—and certainly not its critics—would bother to go to their site to look it up, and context always matters. They describe their intention by saying, “Christmas is real. It’s about a real pregnancy, a real mother and a real child. It’s about real anxiety, courage and hope,” and they sum it all up: “In this season we encourage one another to be generous to those who suffer…” That sounds to me like traditional Christian values.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

This new video by The Thinking Atheist is a tribute to Christopher Hitchens. I thought the video’s final lines were particularly effective.

I used to subscribe to The Nation back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, when Hitchens was writing for it, and that’s how I came to know of him. Back then, I always found him interesting, though sometimes I thought his language was overly dense.

I eventually stopped reading The Nation, particularly after I moved to New Zealand, where copies were imported and very expensive. So I was basically unaware of the fire breathed on him by the left for his support for the “war on terrorism” and his positions that many on the left thought were Islamophobic.

The same positions and beliefs that infuriated the left didn’t endear him the right because of one thing that trumped everything: His atheism or, as he called it, antitheism. That is something that neither America’s left or right approves of, but the right has no tolerance for it at all.

Somehow, I managed to remain largely unaware of his antitheism until relatively recent years, but that’s not surprising: Until YouTube came along, and the Internet in general grew, I really had no way to know about Hitchens stridency on religious matters.

Stridency: That’s a loaded term, isn’t it? People use it to emphasise their disagreement with another because it implies a level of aggression. And yet, Hitchens often was strident, and I think that in this case it’s the most appropriate word.

Personally, I think his stridency was justified in a political landscape that had already become polarised. The right has legions of strident polemicists, the left has very few. Was he of the left? I think he was, the whole Islam-as-fascism thing notwithstanding. It seems to me that the left is often just like the right, demanding uniformity of belief and conformity with orthodoxy, even though few people are absolutely left or right. For me, it’s the totality of belief and opinion that determines where someone is on the ideological spectrum, not some arbiter of “proper” ideology.

Reading him in The Nation demonstrated to me the power of Hitchens’ intellect. He left no one under any illusions about what he thought about the issues of the day, or where he stood. He was, simply, one of the best polemicists of modern times.

Yet for many people it was his antitheism that defined him. Even though I agreed with his criticism of organised religion, I didn’t find him particularly persuasive in presenting atheism (the two are not the same things, after all). There his stridency sometimes got in the way for me.

I like people who display passion for their subject matter—as long as it’s intelligent passion, based on intellectual enquiry and not on mere emotion, hunches or the stories in a holy book. Those other things may have their places, but they don’t carry the argument for me.

So ultimately, that’s why I admired Christopher Hitchens. I didn’t always agree with him, and sometimes I thought he was too strident for my tastes, but his intellectual heft was palpable. He will be missed by many folks who love intellectual enquiry and debate based on facts and reason.

New Zealand’s Zeitgeist

Google has long chronicled what people search for, calling the ranking of searches “zeitgeist.” One of my favourite German words, zeitgeist means “spirit of the times”. As the end of the year approaches, Google has (somewhat prematurely, I would’ve thought) posted its Zeitgeist 2011.

Their overall top ten list for 2011 globally was: 1. Rebecca Black (I had to Google her, and I still don’t know who she is), 2. Google Plus, 3. Ryan Dunn (Googled him, too, and didn’t really know who he was, either), 4. Casey Anthony (Googled her, but then realised I did know who she is), 5. Battlefield 3, 6. iPhone 5, 7. Adele, 8. 東京電力 (Tokyo Electric Power), 9. Steve Jobs and 10. iPad 2.

This list is usually dominated by American stuff or interests—people, places and things—but I think it’s notable that this year one of them was in Japanese, apparently from Japanese people looking for information about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The American overall Zeitgeist list is, not surprisingly, similar to the global list, but with some differences: 1. Rebecca Black, 2. Google Plus, 3. Hurricane Irene, 4. Pinterest (a site I’d never heard of), 5. Ryan Dunn, 6. iPhone 5, 7. Casey Anthony, 8. Adele, 9. Osama Bin Laden, 10. Steve Jobs.

The New Zealand list is quite different: 1. Rugby World Cup, 2. Japan Earthquake, 3. iPhone 5, 4. Pippa Middleton, 5. Adele, 6. Nek Minute (refers to a phrase in a New Zealand viral video), 7. Google Plus, 8. Amy Winehouse, 9. Steven Tyler and 10. Ken Ring (who claimed he could predict earthquakes based on the moon or something; he couldn’t, of course).

While only two of America’s list could be described as non-American, New Zealand’s is much more international. America’s two non-American searches refer to US interests—war and pop culture—while New Zealand’s refer to technology, pop culture and actual news. The Rugby World Cup arguably falls into several categories—New Zealand, international interest and news.

The number one image that Kiwis searched for was Sonny Bill Williams (I can understand that…), but he was followed by Justin Bieber. All but three of the searches (“New Zealand” at 4, “All Blacks” at 5 and “Christchurch Earthquake” at 10) were about pop culture. One could say that all of Americans’ image searches were about pop culture, except, maybe, “Planking” at one and “Royal Wedding” at 10, but to me those are more about pop culture.

People say these lists probably tell us something about the “spirit of the times”, but I think it’s not entirely clear what, exactly, they tell us. Still, I do find them kind of interesting.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ending the marriage muddle

This video from Second City skewers Newt Gingrich as a defender of “traditional” marriage. I think it’s bloody brilliant! How in the name of Jeebus a thrice-married serial adulterer (with other serious ethics issues, too) can be taken seriously as a legitimate commentator on “traditional moral values” is beyond me. There’s some mighty powerful cognitive dissonance on the right, I guess.

This video was written and directed by Andy Cobb, the same guy who did that brilliant anti-Rick Perry video. I’ve subscribed to The Second City Network channel on YouTube so I don’t miss any of their ridicule of the ridiculous Republicans (Andy Cobb also has a related channel called The Partisans, which is more overtly political).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dangerous Garth

I’m going to say something positive about Garth George, one of the rightwing columnists at The New Zealand Herald: He’s the best grumpy curmudgeon currently writing for any New Zealand newspaper. Seriously, that IS a compliment: Many newspaper columnists are grumpy, some all the time, and others are sometimes curmudgeons. But only Garth manages to be both all the time.

Because of this, Garth also provides unintentional hilarity as he expresses opinions that are often so far beyond the pale that they come across as downright unhinged. He probably wouldn’t like the idea of raucous laughter caused by his columns, but folks like Garth who write such puerile drivel are probably used to that reaction.

Today, he struck yet again—although this time his column veered more into the repulsive category than funny.

Garth "wrote" a column entitled, “Beware the other policies of dangerous Greens”, which contained this gem:
“The Greens are dangerous. They are more than a polite group of tree-huggers, slug-savers and water samplers but you rarely, if ever, hear of the more sinister planks of their policy, which are frightening to say the least to those of us who care about what really matters.”
Scary, right? Why, the Greens must be advocating eating the rich, or banning cars or something, right? Nope: They dare to stand up for human rights. Can't get more sinister than that, eh?

Garth copied almost verbatim—and without attribution—a press release from an NZ rightwing extremist group called “Right to Life” (who I wrote about before), and pretended it was something a “mate” had told him. Garth then lays out what he sees as the sins of the Greens—in Australia. Garth didn’t bother to look up the position of the New Zealand Greens on any of the issues he hates—it was just easier to use a rightwing pressure group’s press release unattributed and unverified.

The blog No Right Turn called this regurgitation of rightwing press releases, “churnalism”. As the post notes, Garth has done this before, most notably to present climate change denial views. He was caught out then, too.

Garth is a far rightwing religionist who hates the Greens because they support marriage equality and adoption reform, both of which are a matter of policy for the Greens. They’ve also supported death with dignity and abortion rights, though, as NRT notes, neither is policy for the Greens in New Zealand. Garth’s particular personal religious views condemn all these things and, being a zealot, he of course thinks he’s got the right to force his religious views on everyone else.

But Garth’s peculiar religious obsession isn’t the issue; he’s entitled to hold rightwing views, no matter how wacky and extreme they may be. Scaremongering, however, is beneath any real journalist, and so is plagiarising other people and passing those views off as his own original thinking, or pretending he had a conversation with someone when all he did was read a press release.

Garth should fully retire if he’s so past it that he can’t even write an original column anymore, or else he should be fired because the Herald clearly isn’t getting its money’s worth from a serial copyist.

There are plenty of credible conservative writers who could take Garth’s place, people who even hold many of the same views, but who would express them using original thought, a little energy, some journalistic integrity and without being deliberately offensive for its own sake (even the Herald is aware of problems caused by this column, finally posting today: “Note: Due to an increasing amount of unpublishable postings, the 'comment' functionality of this article has been disabled.”)

The title of my post is merely a play on Garth’s “Dangerous Greens” declaration—which, of course, instantly became a trending hashtag on Twitter (#DangerousGreens) as people gleefully mocked Garth. He deserved that.

Obviously Garth isn’t really dangerous; “pathetic” would be a better word.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Star peace

In this video, George Takei, who worked in both Star Trek and Star Wars, tried to broker peace between William Shatner and Carrie Fisher to end their “my star franchise is better than your star franchise” Internet spat. He did so by identifying what he considers a mutual threat.

I just thought the video was funny and has something that fans from any of the camps mentioned can laugh at. It’s just a joke, after all.

With my year-end projects wrapping up, normal blogging will resume soon.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Xmas and beyond

This new video from The Thinking Atheist takes a look at Christmas, how the traditions modern Christians think are theirs are pretty much exclusively pagan in origin, how there are major holes in the Christian story of the birth of the person they call Jesus, as well as several contradictions within the Christian Gospels themselves. The point is, Christmas isn’t what most Christians think it is.

Does any of that matter? Clearly not to believers. As a sceptic, I was already aware of all this, but I don’t think it should matter to us, either. The holiday our culture calls “Christmas” is great for enjoying good, relaxing times with friends and family, regardless of whether one is Christian—or any other form of religionist—or not. In New Zealand, Christmas is a largely secular holiday, anyway, even among professed Christians, so this isn’t a unique viewpoint.

As for the word “Xmas” in the title, this video points out how one could argue that, despite what some think, it’s not disrespectful of Christianity at all, but instead entirely respectful. The reason I disliked the word wasn’t because of any alleged disrespect, but because I just think the word looks ugly (of course I do—typography is part of my profession, after all).

The bottom line for me is that we’re all free to have a Merry (or Happy) Christmas (or Xmas). Or not. Freedom of belief is a wonderful thing.

Update 3 December 2012: The original video was updated in late November 2012, and the original was deleted. I've updated the link to the new video.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekend Diversion: The Christmas Rush

Last year I posted a video by Mike Tompkins, who did an a cappella cover of Taio Cruz’ Dynamite. I thought it was remarkable because Tompkins made all the music—vocals and instruments alike—by voice and mouth.

A few days ago, Tompkins released the video above of The Christmas Rush, an original song he co-wrote. He again makes all the sounds by mouth. The YouTube description has the lyrics, and a link for buying the song through iTunes, all of which is good.

Personally, I just like fun videos, especially at this time of year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

MMP was the winner

Today the final election results were announced, and MMP received 57.77% support, so it will be retained. I hope that this is the last time that the rightwing tries to dump MMP, because this is a pretty resounding defeat for the anti-democracy forces.

Still, it didn’t stop the public face of the rightwing coalition fighting to dump MMP from saying that if the vote had been held after the election—after people saw that Winston Peters and his motley band of misfits got into Parliament—the results might have been different. What a stupid thing to say—pure speculative nonsense, no more valid than any other “what if” scenarios one could think of.

Some people have noted with alarm that among those voting in Part B of the referendum, 42.23 percent voted for the anti-democratic First Past the Post system. There are several reasons for that. First, many people had no idea what those other systems were and chose the alternative they recognised. But a number of people who supported MMP also chose FPP because they felt it would be the easiest to defeat if there was another referendum. Apparently, a lot of people cast no vote at all in Part B.

One criticism of the referendum was that there wasn’t enough information, particularly about the alernatives. That’s one of the reasons I spent so much space talking about them. But, to be honest, if people didn’t understand the alternatives—and why, precisely, MMP was the best of all the systems—it’s their own fault. The information was readily available if they spent a couple minutes looking for it, as I did. Democracy, in my opinion, imposes certain obligations upon citizens, and among them is the necessity that voters inform themselves and not wait around for someone to spoon-feed information to them. I know that’s harsh, but really, people need to take some responsibility for themselves and their democracy.

In any case, MMP won, and I'm very happy about that.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Government by gays & infidels

When Rick Perry released his anti-gay, “war on religion” Iowa campaign ad, I frankly couldn’t be bothered commenting on it. It smacked of panicked desperation on his part as his campaign visibly dissolves away. I thought the ad was more pathetic than anything.

Still, it’s a bad ad, merely craven anti-gay, far-right religious pandering—though other Republican politicians had already set that bar pretty low. But because it’s so typical of the modern Republican Party, responding to it just wasn’t worth my time or energy.

Comedy comes to my rescue once again. The response video above is by Andy Cobb of The Partisans from the Second City Network on YouTube. It parodies Perry’s ad while pointing out the hypocrisy of the message in it. I think it’s the best response yet (the YouTube description adds even more comedy, like “Honestly, if kids ‘observed’ Christmas any harder in schools than they already do, they would be elves.”)

The Perry ad is clearly comedy gold: George Takei pointed out on Twitter that Perry’s coat looks the same as that worn by Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, leading Takei to ask, “Perry, why can't you just quit us?”

Perry’s an ignorant, arrogant buffoon, and as his campaign falls apart, all that will be left is Perry as the butt of jokes. The tragic part is, Texans still have to live with that joke.

Related: Think Progress has posted a video of Perry displaying his anti-gay, religiously bigoted dumbassery as he tries to defend his Iowa ad. Lies and distortions just ooze from that man.

Also related: Parody—entity?—Mrs. Betty Bowers' channel on YouTube has posted a response in which "Jesus" responds to Rick Perry. Perry's ad is becoming something like that silly "gathering storm" ad of a few years ago—just made for parody and ridicule.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God. for posting the video.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

All they want for Christmas

I first head about this video on ABC News (USA), of all places, and I liked the idea of it (I also have to admit that, despite myself, I like Mariah Carey’s version of this song, too, and she reportedly loved this video).

The video was made by the crew of the HMS Ocean after they learned they’d be home for Christmas. This is no small thing: They’d been sent on a seven week deployment, but then Libya (among other things) happened, and they ended up unexpectedly being away from home for 7½ months—225 days, 176 of them at sea. I can imagine how happy they were to find out they’d be home for Christmas.

They also reported in the video's description the realties of their deployment as:
  • 15 babies born while the ship has been away (fathers did get home to see mum and baby)
  • 5 people were sent home so they didn't miss their own weddings.
  • 1 sailor whose son's third birthday is on homecoming. Family meeting ship
Yep, I’m really sure they’re glad to be heading home. I think it shows.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

An extraordinary and good day

Today the Obama Administration did one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen the US government do in my lifetime: It put the US Government fully on the side of the human rights of GLBT people around the world. There was a time I thought I’d never live to see such a thing.

To be sure, other administrations have done good things for GLBT people within the USA: The Hate Crime Statistics Act was signed by the first President George Bush. Despite severe setbacks, the Clinton Administration nevertheless also made progress. The Obama Administration had previously denounced Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill, along with similar heinous acts of other countries.

Yet until today, the prestige of the United States had never been put behind the struggle of GLBT people to achieve their full human rights. That’s why today is so extraordinary.

President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum that directs US federal agencies to:
  • Combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad.
  • Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.
  • Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  • Engage International Organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.
  • Report on progress.
A Fact Sheet issued along with the Memorandum lists some of what the State Department is doing, noting:
“Even before today’s memo, U.S. agencies have been working to protect and promote the rights of LBGT persons around the world. Since January 2009, Secretary Clinton has directed the Department of State to champion a comprehensive human rights agenda—one that includes the protection of LGBT people.”
Then, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Secretary of State Clinton made remarks in recognition of Human Rights Day and elaborated on this subject, declaring “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Her remarks were the strongest and clearest statement in support of the human rights of GLBT people I’ve ever heard from a US Government official (the link to the speech text, above, also has video of her speech).

Secretary Clinton acknowledged that the US has been guilty of the some of the same abuses of human rights she urged other countries to abandon. She advocated an open and honest dialogue so that it can lead to the change she advocated, and that has helped the US move forward.

To me, the most moving part was when she declared:
“To LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”
When I began my activism on GLBT issues in the Reagan years, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible for a US Government official to make such a speech. I never would have believed we could have a strong advocate in the White House. I never would have believed that the US would be declared our ally. To put it more simply, I never would’ve believed that the US would start to honour its promise of freedom and liberty to GLBT people, too.

There is much work to be done, in the US as well as around the world. Everyone knows that. The vitriolic venom spewed by the bigots of the US’ anti-gay industry in reaction to today’s events demonstrates how far we have yet to go.

Even so, we should celebrate world leaders who got something so very, very right. We should also imagine what might be possible over the next thirty years if we all, as the Obama Administration does, recognise that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Others may continue to dwell on the negatives, on all the incomplete work or on the hate-filled bigots who stand in our way. But this was an extraordinary and good day for human rights, and we mustn’t lose sight of that.

And we must never give up the fight.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

News Bloopers

Dan News, who I follow on Twitter, posted the above video recently. The bloopers and funny bits are mostly from New Zealand and Australian news programmes, with a few others, too. Many of them are flat out hilarious, and I even talked about one segment on this blog.

I’m too busy for a real blog post, but no matter how busy we get, we can all use a laugh from time to time, can’t we?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Aussies rally for equality

Shortly after the Australian Labour Party voted to endorse marriage equality, over the objections of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, thousands of people took part in a previously scheduled march to Darling Habour in Sydney, and rallied outside the convention centre where the ALP was holding its meeting.

Several of the New Zealand Labour Party people I follow on Twitter have been attending the ALP conference as international observers. One of them, Jordan Carter—who ought to be a Labour MP right now, and almost certainly will be in 2014—Tweeted some photos, which he allowed me to share here. The photo below was taken inside the convention centre.

 Jordan has gone on to post the first of a series of posts on his blog, talking about “refounding Labour” in New Zealand. It’s an excellent post and well worth reading.

A win for the Aussie good guys

Today the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the current party of Government, made marriage equality a part of that party's policy platform. The vote was at their national conference in Sydney, and came after the adoption of another amendment promoted by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to make it a conscience vote in the Australian House. That means that ALP Members of Parliament will be free to vote as they choose, and won't have to vote the way the party tells them to.

The Opposition, meanwhile, may not allow a conscience vote among its MPs and, if they don't, it almost certainly means the measure won't pass the Australian House. Still, this is historic progress for Australia and is a major step toward full equality.

New Zealand adopted marriage-in-nearly-every-way-but-name civil unions in 2005, and last week Queensland became the first Australian state to follow suit with its own civil unions, but there's no federal law allowing civil unions or marriage—yet. That's why the ALP's vote matters—it's moving Australia as a nation toward equality.

Progress toward equality is always a good thing and should be celebrated. So, well done, Australian Labor Party! Now, make it law!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Sit on Santa’s lap

This video from Improv Everywhere is of an imaginary musical. In a mall. In New Jersey. I think it demonstrates how much better life would be if it was a musical—especially at Christmas.

Actually, another reason I’m sharing this—and to wear the metaphor entirely too thin—is that I could use "a little Christmas, right this very minute" because I’m so swamped with work that I don’t have time for blogging or podcasting (or much else). At times like these, being able to post a little diversion is a welcome thing.

That whole life-as-a-musical thing is just a bonus.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

World AIDS Day 2011

Because it isn’t over yet.

Previous years’ blog posts:

World AIDS Day 2010

World AIDS Day 2009

World AIDS Day 2008

World AIDS Day 2007

World AIDS Day 2006

Summer begins

Today is the first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Unlike our Northern Hemisphere cousins, apparently, we don’t pay attention to the solstice in a few weeks.

As it happens, today turned into a gloriously bright, sunny and even hot day. I was too busy working to take much notice, but it was nice to look at outside my window. Soon, I’ll get to enjoy the summer, which is, after all, my favourite season.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 1: First broken promise

It’s only the first working day for the current National-led Government and already they’ve broken a promise. Is Day One too early to say “I told you so”?

John Key’s government promised that the New Zealand public would have a say on any significant mines on conservation land, but they’ve decided to allow an open-cast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau without the promised public consultation. Not surprisingly, Forest & Bird, New Zealand's leading conservation group, is not impressed.

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Nicola Vallance said, “It is very cynical that [the government] waited until the first day back in office before telling the public they will be shut out of standing up for their natural heritage.” She’s right, of course, but it’s only the first of many such broken promises we’ll see over the next three years.

Vallance noted this move “will allow Australian-owned Bathurst Resources to dig up over 160 hectares of the Denniston Plateau without an opportunity for the public to have a say about conservation concerns. This would be the biggest open-cast coal mine on New Zealand’s conservation estate.” Let’s see: Mining on conservation land, enriching foreign corporations—yep, ticks two of National’s highest priorities, all while ignoring the people of New Zealand, as they prefer to do.

This will be a very long three years.

Canadian heritage

The above video isn’t particularly new, but I just saw it this morning. It commemorates a moment in Canadian history—July 20, 2005—when civil marriage for same-sex couples became legal in Canada. It was—and is—a very important moment that should be remembered.

Watching it, I wondered how many more years we’ll have to wait for the same fairness and equality in New Zealand? How long will the wait be in Australia? The United States? We’ve already waited far too long.

The message of the video I posted a couple days ago sums up my attitude: It’s time.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

End ‘Occupy’

It’s time to pack up the tents and go home: “Occupy Auckland” has gone on long enough, with no hint that the protesters will ever leave. That may change soon, with or without their consent.

Today Auckland Council issued the “occupy” encampment with a trespass notice and they have gone to the Auckland District Court asking for a court order prohibiting further breaches of council bylaws, which includes their occupation of public space to the exclusion of all others, damage to council property and camping in a public space not set aside for that purpose, among other things.

The trespass notice is the first step toward forcibly removing the protestors. The New Zealand Police had earlier indicated a reluctance to remove the protestors, even with a trespass notice, due to the free speech and freedom of assembly issues raised. But if the Court issues an order, it will have to be enforced.

The known costs to council so far are around $180,000, not counting electricity or water used by occupiers, extra refuse collection, etc. In a worst case scenario—with damage to the waterproof membrane protecting the roof of the carpark underneath Aotea Square and the irrigation system under the encampment site, we’d be looking at a bill several times larger—all paid by the ratepayers of Auckland who can’t even use the space because of the illegal occupation. No wonder they’re pretty much fed up with this whole thing.

The “occupiers” knew this was coming. Just under two weeks ago, Auckland Council asked occupiers for the date of their departure. They didn’t provide that date, but scrawled defiant responses instead. The "occupiers" also claimed there’d be no eviction before the elections this past Saturday because they believed it would become a national issue.

At the end of last week, Council again asked them for the date of their departure before issuing the trespass notice today. Naturally, the “occupiers” aren’t pleased. One of them said he believes this action by Auckland Council as “wholly inappropriate”. Really? Inappropriate like their occupation and use of a public space in violation of several bylaws, and then expecting ratepayers to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars for repairs? That kind of “wholly inappropriate”? Another called it “provocative”—does that mean “provocative” as in implying a never-ending occupation?

Now the “occupy” folks have issued “an emergency call to mobilise”, saying: “We have mandated at tonights [sic] emergency GA [“general assembly”] to Silently protest inside the hearing as well as out side [sic]”. Now, who was being provocative again?

I’ve read minutes of their “general assembly” gatherings and it’s become increasingly clear to me just how deluded they are. They really think they speak for “the 99%,” little realising that they themselves are another “the 1%”, but the one made up of the protesters and their supporters, not the one they’re supposedly protesting against.

I’ve also become convinced that they want a violent confrontation. Their occupation has no point and can’t accomplish anything, so the only thing that could give the whole thing any meaning is if they’re beaten. Trouble is, New Zealand Police aren’t stupid and won’t rise to the bait. And, in any case, the New Zealand news media has shown almost no interest in the whole thing. The “occupiers” call it a “media blackout,” but most New Zealanders would call it ignoring something that simply isn’t news—or even interesting.

If the “occupiers” had left a couple weeks after they arrived, they would have taken a lot of sympathy with them, and people would’ve been supportive of their message. As it is, the vast majority of Aucklanders can’t wait to see the back of them, and that includes me. Whatever natural sympathy I had for them is long gone.

It’s time for them to pack up their tents and go home.

Update 29/11/11: Auckland Council's request for an interim injunction requiring the protesters to leave Aotea Square was denied tonight on the grounds that the protesters supposedly didn't have enough time to prepare a defence. The hearing on the permanent injunction will be heard next week. It's true that justice must not just be done, it must also be seen to be done, so in that sense alone, it seems reasonable to side with the judge. But to be honest, the antics of the protesters in court showed disrespect for the entire legal process, so we'll see if they're better next week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The way forward

I’ve had more than my share of election losses. In New Zealand, my side won the first three elections I could vote in, and it’s now lost two in a row. At the electorate level, it’s worse: My side won the first two times I could vote, then lost the next three.

Add to that my experience in the US, where I can count my victories on one hand and still have fingers left over for jewellery. Okay, slight exaggeration, but not by much.

The point is, I’ve known victory and defeat and, if I’m truly honest, the thrill of the first doesn’t ease the pain of the second. But it’s in defeat that I rediscover both my energy and my determination. That’s a common thing.

When the National Party went down to its biggest defeat ever in 2002, it returned to its roots and re-emerged stronger than ever in 2005. It went too far to the right and scared voters, but if it hadn’t veered so far right, it would’ve won that year.

I think Labour needs to return to its social democratic roots to fight again in 2014. We saw glimpses of that this year, but the public perception of Labour as too similar too National persisted. It needs to stand for something.

It’s not enough for folks to carp from the sidelines, either. Folks who care passionately about New Zealand and about Labour working for us all cannot sit on the sidelines and moan that the party isn’t one thing or another, or that it should do this or that. Instead, they must roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Toward that end, I’m going to try doing exactly that at the local level of the Labour Party. I have no idea whether I’ll be welcome, let alone whether my ideas will be embraced, but if I don’t try, who then can I blame?

This may be my last gasp with the Labour Party, or it could be the start of something else. In either case, I have to try.

I challenge every other disappointed centre-left voter to do the same, whatever their party. Together, we can win—literally, for a change.

Election this and that

One of my biggest sources of laughter—and some anger—has been the rightwing spin on the election results. I think that they actually do know what the truth is, but they’re in perpetual campaign mode and maybe can’t help themselves.

National Party pundits have claimed that the Conservative Party denied John Key an outright majority, but that’s old-fashioned First Past the Post thinking (maybe that’s all their pundits, being old timers, are capable of). National got less than 50% of the vote, so under MMP they should have less than 50% of the seats in Parliament. Colin Craig being there or not doesn’t change that in the least—particularly because there’s no reason to think all those votes would have gone to National. Not every conservative is a Tory, after all.

And, if you want to be technical about it—Tories love facts and figures, right?—roughly one third of eligible voters supported National. So, if only one third of eligible voters backed National, why is it again they should be able to govern alone? LOL, as they say.

Tories hate MMP—they can’t help it, it’s in their DNA. They can’t accept that people unlike themselves should have a voice, or that the majority should rule if it disagrees with them. They believe we’d all be better off if we just shut up and did as they say. So the fact that MMP did exactly as it was supposed to do makes me as happy as it makes Tories grumpy (which makes me happier still). MMP governments are always coalitions, so far, and the power of the largest party is checked by smaller parties. But, then, having read my posts on the electoral system, you already know the inherent superiority of MMP, right?

The bottom line is that I was ecstatic to see the New Zealand public support MMP, even as it handed power to its most strident enemies. There’s a justice in that.

However, since they won, the Nats weren’t my source of happiness this year. Instead, it was the teacup caper. Months ago, when the hapless has-been, Don Brash, took over the Act Party in a coup, he declared that the party would win 15 MPs. Never has schadenfreude been filled with more freude (joy) than this, seeing Don Brash crash in flames. He deserves it. One of the most reviled men in New Zealand politics is now gone—surely one of the best results of the night. Sadly, though, it could be three years until we’re rid of loopy John Banks, but by then not even a cup of tea will save him.

For 2014, I think that Green and Labour voters have to get over themselves and not be so friggin’ prissy about strategic voting. Together they could have rid New Zealand of both the useless “Act Party” (which is, honestly, dead) or the insufferably pompous Peter Dunne. But they were far too pure to be sullied in that way. Whatever, tossers: It’s you’re fault those has-beens are in Parliament.

Okay, those are my random thoughts for this year. We’ve had enough of this campaign—or, I have, anyway. Now it’s time to look forward.


The one thing that’s clear about this year’s election is that MMP was the victor: It worked as it’s designed to and delivered what it always does: Governments with shared power. This is all very good news, indeed.

But once again the five percent threshold came up for debate. In 2008, it was New Zealand First, which got more Party Votes than Act, but still didn't get any seats because it didn’t get 5% of the Party Vote and didn't win an electorate as Act did. This year, it was two other parties who were left out of Parliament. Again pundits are asking, should the threshold be eliminated so there are almost no “wasted” votes?

As things stand at the moment, subject to change when the special votes are counted, the NZ National Party only needs the two one-person rightwing parties (United Future and Act) to have a majority. If they lose a seat after the specials, they’ll need the Maori Party’s three seats more than they do now, but in the unlikely event they lose two seats, they’ll need the Maori Party to govern.

The “Act Party” is only in Parliament because John Banks won Epsom. Banks is not an Act Party person (he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Nat) and, like Peter Dunne, he isn't a party any more than Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party was in the last Parliament. Yet they all received seats in Parliament because they won electorates.

At Public Address, Graeme Edgeler has crunched the numbers and worked out what Parliament would look like if there was no threshold (apart, I’m guessing, from having enough support for one whole MP). Here are his results (keep in mind that all these numbers will almost certainly change once the special votes are counted):

National would have 57 seats (instead of the 60 they appear to have won), United Future and Act would both still have one seat and the Maori Party would still have 3 (because they all won electorates, but their Party Vote wasn't high enough for any more MPs), for a total of 62 seats for the government in a 121-seat Parliament. That’s a bare majority, but a majority.

The Opposition would be Labour 33 (down one), while the Greens would still have 13, New Zealand First would still have 8 (both won no electorate seats) and Mana would still have one (they did win an electorate seat, but had low Party Vote).

Those four seats taken off the two main parties would go to Colin “God Bless” Craig’s Conservative Party (3) and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party (or ALCP, 1).

Would we want that? On the one hand, if enough people vote for a party that their share of the Party Vote would entitle them to one MP, why shouldn’t they be in Parliament? MMP is about proportionality, ensuring that Parliament matches the support parties have. As things are, the 5% threshold—which is an entirely arbitrary number—means thousands of voters are effectively disenfranchised.

On the other hand, entertaining though it might be, clearly the vast majority of New Zealanders don’t want the ALCP in Parliament, so maybe it’s not so unfair to have a threshold. If MMP, and it’s encouragement of coalition government, works to put a brake on the party that forms government, should we not have a brake at the other end—stopping single-issue or activist parties?

I simply don’t know; in fact, I can see merit in both arguments. But the system the way it is not only disenfranchises those who vote for tiny-to-small parties, it also effectively suppresses their support because voters won’t want to waste their vote on a party they perceive as not being able to win a seat in Parliament (usually due to public opinion polling). Who’s to say that Act and United Future wouldn’t have had more Party Votes if those votes weren’t wasted? And National’s self-interested deals in Ohariu, Epsom, New Plymouth, and so on wouldn’t have been needed.

Also, much as I am totally opposed to Colin Craig’s fundamentalist Christian-aligned Conservative Party, if they can win so many votes, do they not deserve to be represented in “the people’s house”? Doesn’t the ALCP? Is democracy not better served by more democracy, more representation, not less? Or, is a “gatekeeper” function also important? Honestly, I’m not sure.

Assuming that MMP’s lead holds and it is retained, as seems likely, then the independent review that follows may help us work out what’s best. I can’t decide how I feel about the threshold; I hope the review helps us all clarify our thinking about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It’s time

I’ve watched this video several times, and I’ve ended up with tears every time. It’s not just because it’s so well made—and it is, maybe even the best video like this yet made—but because the message is so powerful: It’s time to end marriage discrimination.

This video is intended to call Australians to action, and I hope it does. Marriage equality is bizarrely stalled in Australia (despite popular support) due to the weird, inexplicable—and did I say weird?—personal opposition of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That must change.

But we’re only slightly better in New Zealand, with our similar-but-separate civil unions. Here, neither of the two main parties endorses marriage equality, and that’s just plain wrong. While this issue wasn’t a deal breaker for me in 2011, in 2014 it very well might be. In any case, I have no intention of letting up on any party that doesn’t openly and honestly embrace the full equality of all citizens, and that includes marriage equality. The reason is obvious: It’s time.

I first saw this video last night, but couldn’t post it because it was after midnight. Since then, the views have skyrocketed. It’s not hard to see why. I’m posting it now because after tonight, many of us can use something positive.

Not surprised

I’m not surprised by the election results—not really, anyway. The result was tighter than the polls indicated, as I said it would be. I hadn’t counted on such a low voter turnout, which will be maybe 68% at most, when all is said and done. Apparently it’s the lowest since the 1880s. That’s disgusting in its own right, but it’s probable that most of the voters who stayed home were Labour’s. Just like 2008.

In fact, the results overall are very similar to 2008: The split between the centre-left and the centre-right was pretty much the same, but the resurrection of Winston Peters and his New Zealand First Party, along with the surge of the Green Party, rearranged things.

The important thing is that National did not get enough seats to govern alone, and there’s a huge part of Parliament that opposes National’s plans to sell state-owned assets to foreigners. Whether the opposing parties can collectively stop National or not can’t be known right now, but it’s at least possible; if National had won enough seats to govern alone, there would have been no chance of stopping them.

Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, I’ll offer my full take on the results, along with a more in-depth discussion of what the results mean. I’ll also talk about what the centre-left, Labour in particular, needs to do over the next three years.

But tonight there are some sad people, some happy people and—apparently—a huge number of people who just don’t give a shit. That’s the nature of democracy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

To comply with the law

I have temporarily turned on comment moderation on this blog. You can still leave a comment, but it won’t be posted until after 7pm Saturday NZDT (1AM Saturday EST), after the polls have closed. I’m doing this to comply with New Zealand election law, which apparently mandates that I turn off comments (even though the law was enacted in 1993…). I’ll update this post after I’ve re-enabled un-moderated comments.

Also, I won't be posting anything here until after 7pm tomorrow. Apparently a new post might draw eyes to my previous election posts. Or something.

P.S. Two ticks Labour and vote to Keep MMP!! (I can say that because I’m posting this before midnight…)

Update 26/11/11: Now that polls have closed, comments are once again unmoderated, so they will post immediately. Thank you for your patience.

How I will vote

After months of thinking about the election, hours reading party policies and no small amount of agonising over my vote, I’ve reached my final decision for election day: I’ll be giving Two Ticks to Labour.

When I say I was agonising, I’m not kidding in the least. As I said yesterday, “I’ve been voting for 34 years, and I have never been this conflicted.” In the end, it all came down to one basic point: The purpose of the Party Vote is to vote for the party I want to form government, and that is and always has been, Labour.

I admire the Greens—a lot. I want them to be part of Government—a Labour Government. I considered giving them my Party Vote because of how well they ran their campaign, but that was only possible because they—from my point of view—have matured as a party, drafting policies that middle New Zealand can support. Their party list includes many capable and talented people who would be a credit to Parliament.

But my “home”, if you will, is Labour: I’ve voted “Two Ticks Labour” since 1999, the first New Zealand election in which I was eligible to vote. But my support, while probable, is never a certainty and Labour has to continue earning my vote. I’ll admit that there have been times over the past three years when they really pissed me off. At other times I’ve cheered them. Those times have been more frequent.

Labour has, on the whole, run a good campaign. If we’d seen the Phil Goff of the last few weeks during the past three years, I think the poll numbers would be very different. New Zealanders agree with me on that, too: Goff’s polling as preferred prime minister has been rising steadily in recent weeks.

National never had a chance of getting my vote. There is a fundamental divide between us that I just can’t see being bridged (I don’t say “never”, but the phrase “highly unlikely” springs to mind). I don’t like John Key and I can’t understand why anybody else does (apart from Tories). On this blog, I’ve highlighted many of the things I vehemently disagree with Key about (my opposition to his idiotic plan to sell off state owned assets to foreigners is probably the most widely shared), but the one thing I can’t get past is him telling GLBT voters that National is “pro-gay” because they didn’t take away any of our rights in their first term. Gee, thanks, John.

GLBT issues are not my sole criteria, or even my main ones, but I certainly take then very seriously. I’m keenly aware that nearly all of the legal progress for GLBT New Zealanders has happened during Labour governments. Labour brought many GLBT people into their Parliamentary caucus. Labour Leader Phill Goff—unlike Key—is a clear supporter of fairness and justice. While both Labour and the Greens support adoption reform, only the Greens clearly support marriage equality. As I said a long time ago, this is not a deal-breaker for me, and I will continue to urge Labour to take a clear, unequivocal stand in favour of marriage equality. They eventually will, and we all know it.

So why did I consider the Greens? It wasn’t just an effective campaign or good party leaders and candidates. Part of it was that I wanted a strong Green caucus to pull Labour back leftward after years of the party crossing the centre line to the rightwing side too often. In recent weeks, with the poll numbers looking so abysmal, I looked to the Greens as the best shot at stopping National’s insane plans to sell off state owned assets. But this only works if National has trouble getting the numbers to form government. Also, it means, ultimately, supporting a National-led government, and I do not want that at all.

A quick aside on polls: The final election results are unlikely to mirror the polls. I’ve never seen an election campaign where poll numbers haven’t moved: The breathless, incompetent reporting of the newsmedia aside, support levels have all been pretty much within the margin of error all along, meaning little or no movement. Either something is wrong with the polls this year, or this is something I’ve never seen before. I’m betting on the former.

My electorate vote for the Labour candidate was decided a long time ago, not coincidentally because it’s also my only vote that doesn’t matter: National will win this electorate easily, probably with a large majority. If we could vote for our electorate MP using Preferential Voting, as I think we should do, it might be different. But, for now, this is a very Tory electorate.

I’m not going to rehash all the things I oppose about National, or the things that I support in Labour, though many of both are highlighted in the Labour videos I’ve posted on this blog. We had a whole campaign season to talk about those issues.

In the end, it all came down to the same thing I started out with: I want to change the government and I want a Labour-led Government. That’s what matters to me, and that’s why I’m going to Party Vote Labour.