Monday, February 28, 2011

Get through, 2

A few days ago, I wrote about using social media in an emergency, and I offered some tips. I’ll be coming back to that topic later this week, but today wanted to mention something I didn’t think of before: Tech preparedness.

Tonight’s TVNZ Close Up had a segment called Getting back to business (overseas readers, I don’t know if this is watchable outside New Zealand; I also don’t know how long TVNZ keeps clips available). The segment was about Christchurch business owners desperate to get into the cordoned-off area to retrieve computers and records so they can set up business somewhere else, or, at least, to prepare to.

No business owner should be in that position.

I can’t think of a single business these days that doesn’t use computers for at least part of its functioning: Accounting, email, customer relationship management, etc., etc. So for most businesses, a disaster recovery plan is simply not optional.

There are many ways to prepare. I once worked for a company that had me put files onto an Iomega Jaz cartridge and take them home with me so there was an offsite back-up (nowadays, one would use DVDs for a similar method).

But the smarter option is to use a back-up service over the Internet. There are plenty available, but I don’t want talk about specific companies because I haven’t evaluated them. Still, there are companies here in New Zealand and overseas.

These systems create incremental back-ups, like Time Machine on the Macintosh, except that instead of storing the back-up files on your own computers and hard disks, it stores them in a secure data facility somewhere else. The advantage of storing files in this way is that, being Internet-based, they’re accessible from anywhere in the world. As long as the back-up company is in a completely different region of the country (or world) than the business, the business will be protected, since it’s very unlikely a total disaster will strike them both at the same time.

So, a Christchurch company that used such a service could temporarily move anywhere there’s a broadband connection, get their back-up files and get set-up again, even without access to their place of business or their normal computers. If they were able to do that, the existence of the cordon wouldn’t matter.

I’m certainly not taking shots at the Christchurch businesses portrayed in the Close Up segment; for all I know they had a disaster strategy that didn’t work for some reason. Close Up’s point wasn’t actually about the businesses, but instead a point-scoring exercise on how bureaucracy was preventing the businesses from getting back on their feet.

I think this story should serve as a warning for every business to be prepared for disaster, ideally though an Internet-based back-up strategy. Such a system is good for home users, too, who can back up all their digital photos and music, for example.

This is just one more way to get ready to get through.

Kia Kaha Christchurch – From New York City

Some expat Kiwis in New York City organised a special video in support of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake, filmed Saturday, February 26.

The YouTube description says:
“This is a message of strength to let you know that Kiwis everywhere have got your back. We hope this inspires people worldwide to donate and we challenge other expat communities to raise the bar.”
There have been a lot of YouTube and other messages, but this is the first one I’ve seen from expats. Well done.

Global appeal launched

In this video, Prime Minister John Key launches a global appeal for donations to help the people of Christchurch recover from their recent earthquake.

Contributions from anywhere in the world can me made through the New Zealand Government’s Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

Also, a Two Minute Silence will be observed on Tuesday, March 1 at 12:51 PM. That’s also: Sydney - 10:51AM, Tuesday; Brisbane - 9:51AM, Tuesday; Perth - 7:51AM, Tuesday; London - 11:51PM, Monday; New York - 6:51PM, Monday; Chicago - 5:51PM, Monday; Denver - 4:51PM, Monday; San Francisco - 3:51PM, Monday; Honolulu - 1:51PM, Monday and GMT/UTC - 11:51PM, Monday.

Thank you for your thoughts and support.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Things change

A lot of things have changed since I started this blog: I’ve changed themes a few times, fiddled with one thing or another, as well as adding and deleting things. I’ve always tried to keep things simple, despite appearances sometimes seeming otherwise; I try and keep them easy for folks to use.

A long time ago, I added a widget (screen cap at left) so people could listen to my podcast episodes without having to go to that site. A few weeks ago, I noticed the widget wasn’t updating; in fact, the widget stopped updating on or about January 3, something I noticed because I used the same widget to display earthquake data. I’ve since replaced the earthquake data widget, but I couldn’t find one to play my podcast files.

So, I’ve deleted the dead widget and replaced it with a simple list of recent episodes that link through to the site where they’re kept. I did the same thing for both my podcasts, actually, since 2Political episodes were never listed on my blog. This isn’t a perfect solution, but until I find a solution I like, or learn more about coding in HTML5, this is the best I can do.

Sometimes, trying to make things simple makes them complicated. Sadly, that’s something I’ll probably keep rediscovering because my manipulation of this blog is unlikely to end.

Two-day rule

It’s been easy to NOT blog this week. With everything going on, blogging seems unimportant—probably because it is compared to other things. And yet, there are always things I want to comment on.

Wanting to comment on something doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to do so. Recently I made a change I haven’t mentioned before: The two-day rule. If I see something I want to comment on, especially something that pisses me off or otherwise riles me up, I try to wait until the second day (or longer) before I write a post.

Not surprisingly, the things that rile me up on day one no longer do so, or not as much, on day two (or after). This is one of my nods toward that call to greater civility: If I hold back, I’m much more likely to be restrained in my rhetoric.

I could point out the irony of holding back when my opponents on the right never do, but their bad behaviour is beside the point: If I’m as bad as them, I’m bad, and I want to be better than that—or them.

None of which is meant to suggest that I won’t be intemperate in my rhetoric in the future, because I know I will be. If someone or their behaviour pisses me off, it pisses me off and I’ll call them as I see them. What I’m saying is that sometimes I’ll simply choose not to post anything at all about that pissed-off-ness.

So if in future my rhetoric is unrestrained and more forceful than might seem wise, it is probably better than it would have been had I posted immediately. These days, the right pisses me off more than ever, and restraint is hard. Using the two-day rule is the best I can offer and, to me, it is far more than enough.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting through

The New Zealand government has long advised Kiwis to Get Ready, Get Thru, to be prepared for natural disasters. The information is in the Yellow Pages—always available, even without electricity and for people who use their Yellow Pages as a doorstop.

And yet, there’s more.

I’ve written before about how I’ve used social media to let my overseas friends know we’re okay. Something about this disaster that has most touched me, and broken my heart, are the Tweets from people looking for folks they cannot locate.

And then it hit me: Why not use social media in the event of an emergency?

I’ve long had my Twitter account set up so I could Tweet by text message. But it’s also possible to change a Facebook status by text, too, and I’ve now set-up my Facebook account so I can do that.

In any emergency, text messages are more likely to get through than voice calls. So, it occurred to me, a text message to Twitter and/or Facebook can let a lot of people know all at once that one is okay and safe. That’s why I set up Facebook for status updates.

To be honest, it also occurred to me that if one is trapped in a collapsed building, then surely letting a LOT of people know has got to be a good thing. I can’t advocate using social media as a way to let people know you’re trapped, but hey: It can’t hurt!

For all this to work, one more thing is critical: KEEP YOUR CELLPHONE CHARGED! I keep my cellphone on the charger whenever I’m not walking around. It’s a good idea to keep it on a charger at home, at work or in the car. The point is, a fully-charged cellphone is invaluable if one is trapped, so it makes sense to keep it charged.

The whole point in all this is, if you’re prepared, you can get through anything. So, get ready, get through. Your life—or that of someone you love—may depend on it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Time for a break: Jake and Sunny

It’s been a sad few days. It’s time for a break with something that made me smile: Jake (right) and Sunny (left) asleep on the sofa today. They sometimes sleep next to each other, but I don’t remember seeing them on that sofa together until today. I’m glad they picked today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earthquake perspectives

After a big natural disaster, we want to know and understand what happened. We feel a connection, even when our personal connections are minimal.

Because so many folks overseas have gotten to know me through this blog or my podcasts, they often think of me when New Zealand is in the news. Sometimes, it’s positive stuff (like Auckland being named the tenth most liveable city in the world, something I would’ve blogged about had the earthquake not happened). Sometimes, though, it’s disasters that draw the attention. News is global, even if specific knowledge about geography, for example, is not.

So, as I said yesterday, when a disaster happens, I use social media to let people know we’re okay. To me, it seems especially appropriate, since so many people know me only through social media.

I’m turning to social media again to share some other things:

First, to help folks overseas appreciate how far away Christchurch is from Auckland, here are a few comparisons: It’s roughly the same distance as from Chicago to Memphis (another city at risk of a massive earthquake). Christchurch is farther from Auckland than New York City is from Raleigh, North Carolina or London is from Hamburg or Sydney from Brisbane (direct distance, not road or travelling distance).

Also, there have been some amazing first-hand accounts, starting with the aftermath video at the top of this post. There are also some photos with shocking side-by-side before and after comparisons at news.com.au. The New Zealand Herald has posted other photos.

Here are some first-person accounts:

How Twitter brought us news that our family in Christchurch was safe: a remarkable story – Brian Edwards' personal story

New Zealand earthquake: 'A moment of silence. Then a wail of sirens' - David Haywood’s story

The day the earth roared - Vicki Anderson’s story

I share all these because I think they help to humanise the tragedy, make it something we can relate to more than statistics, media briefings or news bulletins can do by themselves. I don't know any of these people, and yet through their efforts I can relate to their personal experiences. Sometimes, social media is a really great thing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

After shock

This morning was a crushingly ordinary morning, just chores and insignificant frustrations. Got some things done, planned some things for the afternoon—an ordinary morning.

After lunch, I went back to my computer to finish a blog post (now cancelled). I saw the first Tweets on Twitter announcing a massive earthquake in Christchurch, so I went to find information. Soon, in became clear there was a big earthquake.

By around 2:30pm, TV3 was on the air with live video from Christchurch—raw, unedited and crushingly, shockingly sad. It’s so unfair that only some five months after the last big earthquake Christchurch was struck again.

This one was far, far more severe than the September quake, despite being only 6.3, because it was closer (some 5km from the centre of the city) and much shallower (5km deep). It also happened at the worst possible time—lunchtime, when the city was full. This time there’s also loss of life: 65 confirmed dead, a list sure to grow, and scores were injured.

Just like last time, I turned to Twitter to let folks know that we were fine, we were in no danger and never felt a thing: It happened over 760 km (470 US miles) away from us. I posted to Facebook, sent an email to family in the US.

Next, I used the same tools to check on folks I know in the Christchurch area. It was well into evening when I found out the last one was safe and okay.

Social media come into their own during times of crisis, making it easy to let a large number of people know we’re okay, or to find out if others are. It also makes it easier to spread information—not all of it reliable, of course.

But the thing that really strikes me about these sorts of things is the immediate affect on the country: New Zealand is a small nation of around 4.4 million people. When something like this happens, we put aside our regional differences and unite as Kiwis: We are family.

At times like this, we need that.

The photos above are of Christchurch Cathedral before and after.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Distraction: More 80s musicians redux

In recent months, I’ve posted new videos from OMD and Erasure, groups active in the 1980s—an era of pop music for which I have enormous affection, despite the political pollution of that time. Today, I add another one: The Cars.

This video, for their new song Blue Tip, is from the group’s forthcoming album, Move Like This (to be released in May). It’s the group’s first recording in nearly a quarter century (which sounds way more dramatic than saying 24 years…).

In recent months I’ve heard a lot of pop music, especially indie music, that’s strongly reminiscent of 80s music—some of it even sounding like lost recordings from that era. Now, we have actual 80s bands recording new material. To me, that’s all good, of course, though I know some will have an automatic rejection of it. To each his own—but this, too, will not last; styles, sounds or whatever never do.

The truth is, I take all pop music with a grain of salt—liking what I like, and disliking what I dislike. Unlike politics, however, I seldom care if anyone else agrees with me or not. Actually, that means it’s not like the real 1980s at all. And that IS a good thing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Family values

This video shows what real family values are. It also shows what a true conservative thinks, and it’s not the antique attitudes of religious extremists or the frauds interested in exploiting religion to gain political power.

Forget the rightwing talking heads on conservative radio or TV, all those nattering nabobs of negativity who push a theocracy and victimise GLBT people to get it. They’re not real or true conservatives, and they’re definitely not true family. Craig Stowel is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

OMD – History of Modern, Part 1

Time for a little break from more serious subjects…

Yesterday I received an email from OMD announcing the release of the official video for The History of Modern (Part 1). I joined their email list last August when the video for “If You Want It” was released. I posted that video and mentioned the email list back then.

It turns out, this video was the winner of a competition on genero.tv. It was directed and produced by Lapantafilm from Sweden. You can view the other entrants and finalists here.

OMD said in their email:
"The sheer volume of work that has gone into this is incredible. So many different film animation styles. A very creative mixture of stop frame animation, modelling, drawing, film capture. A serious collection of OMD references… some of which are incredibly subtle, some not. The ideas are a varied and effective as the many different techniques. There were several really strong entries but this is the clear winner."
I think it also illustrates the extensive and targeted Internet marketing being used for products associated with this album. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. I hope it works well for them so there are more songs to come.

The union label

The evidence is mounting: The US Republican Party is waging an ideological and class war against mainstream America. Sound extreme? It isn’t—it’s accurate, and is true largely because the Republican Party has moved so far to the extreme right. Nothing shows this more plainly than their attacks on union workers.

The above video from MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” outlines, in Ed’s typical bombastic style, how Republican governors are waging war against public service unions even, in the case of Wisconsin, threatening to use the state National Guard to put down a labour dispute—how very nineteenth century of him.

The unions that Republicans are attacking are mainly in the public sector, which figures: They’re the only ones they can get to directly, and it’s one of the few sectors of the American workforce with any sizeable level of unionisation.

According to the annual report on union membership published by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 the rate of union membership for public sector workers was 36.2%, while the rate for private sector workers was a measly 6.9 percent.

Overall, the statistics show the pitiful state of unionisation in the US. In 2010, the percentage of all wage and salary workers who were members of a union was 11.9%—down from 12.3% the year before. In 1983, the first year for which the BLS has comparable figures, the union membership rate was 20.1%.

So, with rates of union membership so low and declining, one wonders how Republicans can keep a straight face as they label union workers as a major cause of America’s economic problems. They’re either playing Americans for fools or they don’t know facts and reality, and neither prospect is very appealing.

But there’s also this: The statistics show that black workers were more likely to be union members than workers who were white, Asian or Hispanic. I believe the Republican attack dogs are well aware of that fact, and also that—according to actuarial tables—for many lower-level African-American workers, raising the retirement age will mean they will die before they can retire. Do Republicans believe, as John Boehner might put it, “so be it”?

So far, only my home state of Illinois has done the responsible thing and approached their budget problems like grown ups. They raised income and corporate taxes by modest amounts—tax rates are still lower than in neighbouring Wisconsin and Iowa. Illinois will be cutting its budget, too—but not on the backs of mainstream Illinoisans. This mixed approach is an example other states should follow.

The one thing that makes no sense whatsoever is to go after hard working ordinary Americans. Or is that all the Republican Party is capable of?

Seen to be done

You’ve probably heard the old saying: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." It was originally said by Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart in a case before the King’s Bench division. The case, Rex v. Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy (1924), reiterated the importance of judicial impartiality and the necessity for the recusal of judges. These are based on concepts of natural law, on which all legal systems descended from English law are based. In other words, they’re right at the heart of our system of justice.

This saying came up again recently (like in the video above) when it was revealed that US Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas took part in a gathering of multi-billionaires who were meeting to discuss how best to channel their money to elect conservative Republicans.

Later, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are supposedly just like real people and as such can spend unlimited money to elect candidates they favour—or, more accurately, candidates who will favour them once elected. Neither Justice Scalia nor Justice Thomas recused themselves, despite the fact they were ruling on a case that directly affected the same billionaires they’d met with.

At this point, no one is suggesting the ruling was a quid pro quo for the billionaires. But this raises serious questions about the impartiality of Scalia and Thomas, particularly when Thomas, at least, wasn’t entirely honest about the extent to which he’d be the beneficiary of the billionaires’ generosity.

What it all boils down to is simple: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." In the Citizens United case, justice was not seen to be done, and that, by definition, means that justice was not done. This serious transgression must be fully investigated—though I have absolutely no faith that it will be.

"Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." Personally, I doubt we’ll see either in this matter.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

National: 'Let them eat cake'

The New Zealand National Party is campaigning for a second term in government based on what it thinks is its sound management of the economy. So far, they seem more like a wealthy elite, completely out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders, and now they’ve even added a “let them eat cake” moment.

John Key promised that his National-led government would fix the economy, grow jobs and make New Zealand more attractive for Kiwis than Australia. All that would be possible, he preached once taxes were cut.

It didn’t work out that way.

The unemployment went up in the last quarter, the economy continues to grow a snail’s pace when our trade competitors and partners have all recovered much better, and people are still leaving for Australia in droves.

National skewed its tax cuts toward the rich and super-rich, giving very little to ordinary, mainstream New Zealanders. Then they punished ordinary and poor New Zealanders by hiking GST (Goods and Services Tax).

Economic times are tough, Key and his deputy, Bill English, told us, and cuts must be made. So they cut funding for early-childhood education, causing fees to rise so much that for many working families the small tax cut that Key and English gave them was wiped out.

They sacked workers in the public service and talked of forced mergers in public agencies to “save money”. This was the same logic used when Key and his mate, Act Party leader Rodney Hide, forced through a merger of the Auckland region into one city (the bills for which will fall on mainstream Aucklanders for ten to twenty years, and which will cost at least that much more than National/Act promised).

Meanwhile, Kiwis keep voting with their feet. The number of New Zealanders moving to Australia keeps growing, and last weekend an Australian jobs fair in Auckland drew 7,000 potential migrants, nearly double the number expected.

Now we find out that the National-led government has order 34 brand-new, ultra-luxury BMWs to replace the current 3-year-old BMWs. Bill English and John Key claimed their hands were tied, due to a contract signed by the previous Labour-led government. The news media found out Key and English weren’t telling the truth: Renewal of the contract was optional—they didn’t have to buy new cars.

The cost of the cars could be around maybe half of one percent of total annual government expenditure, but the dollar amount isn’t the point. After preaching that New Zealand had to cut expenses (and services) and sell-off state owned assets, they had the cheek to buy new luxury cars when they could’ve kept the current ones a couple more years even if only as a symbolic gesture. Mainstream New Zealanders are pissed-off about this, and don’t appreciate the “let them eat cake” attitude of English and Key.

One thing we know already: This is shaping up to be a very interesting election campaign.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Getting with the program

I like social media. A lot. If you add it all together—blogs, podcasts, YouTube, Twitter and even Facebook, I spend most of my Internet time using social media of one sort or another.

Another thing I use the Internet for is research, particularly about politics and government. The amount of information made easily available online by national and local governments has exploded in recent years, so much so that I’m pretty much shocked if I can’t find some government statistic, report, legislative information or similar on the Internet.

My two uses of the Internet— social media and research—have been converging more and more, and now a new Parliamentary Library Research Paper describes the extent to which New Zealand members of Parliament are using social networking sites, and how that relates to their official duties.

The top five sites the paper lists as social networking sites are Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Twitter and Wordpress (in that order). Blogger and Wordpress are blogging sites, and the paper doesn’t look at those in detail.

92 of the 121 MPs (about 76%) had Facebook accounts (November 2010), making it MPs’ most popular social networking site. Not surprisingly (to me, anyway), Green Party MPs were seemingly first to adopt Facebook. However, 13 MPs have restricted profiles, meaning members of the public—voters—can’t view their pages or details without first being added as a “friend”. That's just dumb.  Also, I don’t think which MPs have the most Facebook “friends” or the most “Likes” says anything about MPs or Parliament.

I thought it was interesting that 86% of female MPs are on Facebook, as compared to 75% of male MPs. 88% of List MPs (who don’t represent an electorate) are on Facebook, as compared to only 72% of Electorate MPs (those who do represent electorates).

Twitter use is very different. Only 43% of MPs have Twitter accounts (November 2010). Apart from that, the differences noted above are similar: 55% of female MPs are on Twitter, compared to 38% of male MPs. 59% of List MPs are on Twitter, compared to 31% of Electorate MPs.

The paper says, “There has been much conversation on Twitter between members of the public and MPs using @replies.” I haven’t seen much of that. I follow several MPs, only one follows me back, and most seldom interact with me or, as near as I can tell, anyone else (except, maybe, people they already knew or their early followers). Some MPs share links to articles or photos, or forward the links others have Tweeted. But most of the MPs I follow simply “broadcast” statements which, though one-way, can nevertheless be interesting.

As with Facebook, I think the number of followers an MP has is pretty irrelevant. The ratio of followed to follow does indicate a certain level of connectedness, however, and the number of Tweets they post shows how often the MP uses the service.

YouTube, the paper says, was New Zealanders’ fifth most-visited site, making it “one of the most useful social networking tools. It allows engagement with many people internationally and nationally, particularly those unable or unwilling to read party information.” Although some say parties are preaching to the converted, there nevertheless is a lot engagement. National leads the pack with the most videos uploaded, followed by the Greens, but Labour’s average views per video leaves them all in the dust. I don’t know what, if anything, that says about those parties.

All up, the report is an interesting snapshot and good first look at how New Zealand MPs are using social media. There’s a lot more research and analysis that can be done on this, especially after the results of the upcoming 2011 election. But for now, check out the full report—there’s a lot of analysis I didn’t even touch on in this post.

Appropriately enough, I found out about this report from a Tweet from the New Zealand Green Party (@NZGreens), one of several NZ political accounts I follow. This post has been slightly revised since it was first published. And, I Tweeted its existence, of course.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marriage is STILL really sacred

Those of us arguing for marriage equality are obviously wrong. Heterosexuals are constantly demonstrating how marriage is far too sacred for anyone but them.

Three years ago, I wrote about how a radio station was hosting a competition in which a woman would meet two potential grooms on the wedding day, then had to pick one to marry immediately. That’s obviously so far superior to gay people spending decades with their partner, but being unable to marry.

Then, some 18 months later, I wrote about an Indiana woman who had been married 23 times. What? She obviously values traditional marriage!

Now a radio station is running a new competition, “Win a Wife”, in which some guy will be flown to the Ukraine to meet a potential wife at an agency that specialises in such things. They’re not insisting on marriage, and the winner must indemnify the radio station against any claim “for any accident, injury, loss of life or failure to find love”.

And not just any man can take part. They promise to “weed out the no-hopers and time-wasters” through their application process. Then, the finalists will be subjected to “character assessment from friends and family and psychometric testing and suitability for marriage testing.” Sounds more thorough than with a typical groom, doesn’t it?

So, the station says, “If you're interested in holy matrimony with a potentially hot foreign chick, fill it out to the best of your abilities.” Because when the top priority for matrimony is that it’s with “a potentially hot foreign chick”, that matrimony would be very, very holy, indeed.

It’s been pointed out that because only a man can win the competition, it violates New Zealand’s Human Rights Act, which is true. But since only a man can marry a woman under New Zealand law, well, so what, right? What’s a little discrimination and human rights abridging among friends?

Personally, I’m really glad that we have these fine examples of heterosexuality to show us how sacred marriage really is—so sacred, in fact, that it can be a prize in radio contests, a woman can marry 23+ times and Britney Spears can marry for 55 hours. Every single one of those marriages had more legal standing, more rights and more automatic legitimacy than most same-sex couples in the US can ever hope to have, no matter how many decades they’re together, no matter how many lawyers they see and no matter how many thousands of dollars they spend drawing up legal documents that heterosexual married couples would never need.

Marriage is FAR too sacred for any of that.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Update 16/02/11: In response to growing criticism, including a complaint to the Broadcast Standards Authority by the Ukrainian Embassy in Australia (which also serves New Zealand), the radio station today changed the name of of the competition from "Win A Wife" to "Win A Trip To Beautiful Ukraine For 12 Nights And Meet Eastern European Hot Lady Who Maybe One Day You Marry".

A bit rich, John

Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key again attended the “Big Gay Out,” Auckland’s largest GLBT event, which each year attracts some 10,000 people.

In his speech to the crowd, Key said: "I promised not to roll back gay rights and I have kept my promise." He claimed that under his leadership, the National Party had “a strong record of standing up for gay rights,” as the NZPA story put it.

To claim a “strong record” means his party should have done something positive, not just avoided doing bad things. Simply not doing evil isn’t the same thing as being virtuous, after all, especially if one—or one’s party—is inclined to do bad things, as their recent history suggests:

  • In December, 2004, Parliament passed the Civil Unions Act, but 24 of 27 National MPs voted against it, including Key. 14 of the MPs who voted “no” are in Key’s Cabinet. All three of the National MPs who voted for the bill are now gone from Parliament.
  • The following March, Parliament considered the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill to put legal force to the Civil Union Act by ensuring that relationships would be treated equally in law in most instances. During debate, then-Act Party MP Stephen Franks offered (on supposed Libertarian grounds) a two-part amendment. The first part would have removed sexual orientation, marital status and family status from the Human Rights Act, thus removing legal protections. The second part would’ve specifically allowed anyone except the government to discriminate because of specific conduct: “extra-marital sex, extra-marital child bearing, the breach of promises exchanged in marriage, desertion, same sex relationships in the nature of marriage, and homosexual sex”.
    Reprehensible and disgusting as Franks’ effort was, three current National Party cabinet ministers—Judith Collins, John Carter and Nick Smith—voted in favour of specifically re-legalising discrimination. The amendment ultimately failed, of course.
  • In December of that year, 2005, Parliament took up then-MP Gordon Copeland’s anti-gay Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill, which would’ve defined marriage as only between one man and one woman (even though that fact had already been established by the courts). 36 National MPs vote for it, and of them, 15 are now in Cabinet.

So, a good chunk of John Key’s cabinet has an anti-gay voting record, sometimes virulently so. Pardon me for not being thrilled with Key that he’s kept them from repealing what Labour enacted when it was in government.

The evidence is clearly that National under Key does not have “a strong record of standing up for gay rights.” Maybe he meant to say his National caucus has a strong record of sitting down for gay rights—not attacking, in other words. That’s simply not good enough.

Labour isn’t above criticism, either: While they passed the Civil Unions Act and related legislation, the party has done—and said—little since. Some current Labour MPs have spoken in favour of fixing the anomaly in adoption law that prevents same-sex couples from adopting, although a single gay person can. That’s great. But I’m not aware of a single Labour MP who has expressed any support for full marriage equality—and that includes their gay MPs.

In the last election, the right hammered Labour for its “social engineering,” a patently absurd charge, but one that resonated with the right. I suspect that the Labour leadership has made a calculated political decision to stay as far away from social issues as possible, to the extent of remaining totally silent on equality issues.

Still, Labour can be rightly proud of what it did do. But it’s a bit rich for John Key to claim his party has “a strong record of standing up for gay rights” when the record suggests the opposite.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend Diversion 2: An extra helping

I just finished up a major work project, so I can return to normal blogging next week. For now, here’s another video, this one for a song from my past.

This video was created to accompany the track “America Is Waiting” from the 1981 album, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a collaboration between David Byrne (of Talking Heads) and Brian Eno, whose earlier collaborations with David Bowie, especially “Heroes”, I liked.

The album was recorded during a break between touring for Talking Heads’ Fear of Music (1979) and the recording of Remain in Light (1980), but its release was delayed while they worked to obtain legal rights for the large number of samples used in the album. This was the first album to make extensive use of sampling.

My first real boyfriend introduced me to this album during my last year at university (he also introduced me to Joan Armatrading, Joni Mitchell and others). With the statute of limitations well and truly expired, I can add that there may have been illegal smoking matter involved at that time, and I’m sure it would’ve heightened my appreciation for what is often a surreal aural experience.

About the time the album was being recorded, I used to sample radio broadcasts, too, though not nearly as elaborately and without a backing track (I’ve often wondered what I might have played with if I’d had today’s technology). Maybe my playing around helped me appreciate what they did just a little bit more.

My favourite tracks from the album are “The Jezebel Spirit”, which includes a sample of an anonymous exorcist, and “Help Me Somebody”, which similarly samples an evangelical preacher. “America Is Waiting” is actually third on my list, though still a fave.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was an influential album for me, back in the day. I suppose that, since I still remember it so well, it still is.

I like this video, in part because it captures the essence of the track so well. Someone on YouTube described the video as "better than an acid trip", and I'll take their word for that. But it does capture the surreal nature of the original track, one of the things I liked about the track and the album.

Weekend Diversion: Born This Way by Terry Lavell

When I checked Joe.My.God., as I do every morning, I saw the above video there. Said Joe:
With the same title and a similar theme to yesterday's release by Lady Gaga, this track was written by R&B legends Ashford & Simpson for a musical based on a novel by openly gay author E. Lynn Harris, who died unexpectedly in 2009. Harris' untimely death apparently put a hold on the musical, but promoters are recirculating the below clip to capture some of the Born This Way media frenzy. It's a dynamite track with that classic Ashford & Simpson groove. Play it loud, it's a Saturday!
Well, it’s Sunday here, but I still agree with Joe. Quite frankly, after first hearings of both songs, I liked this one better. Part of the reason is that the lyrics and message in this one are stronger, which figures if it’s part of a musical.

At any rate, it’s a good song for a weekend—in any hemisphere.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Weekend Diversion: UK explained

I saw this video over at Joe.My. God., and it does a pretty good job of explaining the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England. There are some errors, which the video’s creator, CGPGrey, lists in his own blog post. Still, as sort of an introduction for people who may not understand the differences—or even that there are any—this isn’t bad (and I’m sure version 2 will be even better).

A post for Roger

Anyone who’s read the comments on this blog or listened to either of my podcasts knows of Roger Owen Green, and how much respect I have for him. His comments, whether here, on another site or on his own blog are always thoughtful, and the topics he writes about on his blog are as varied—and interesting—as you’ll find anywhere. He’s one of the bloggers I would most like to meet in real life.

Real life: Sometimes it just catches up with you. This past week, Roger’s mother passed away after suffering a massive stroke.

I wanted to post something here, but frankly I wasn’t sure if it was a proper thing to do, but—thanks to Roger—I see that at least one blogger has done that. So I will join him, and the commenters on Rogers site, in extending my condolences to Roger and his family.

The largely artificial Internet life is all too often detached from real life, and we lose sight of the real-life humans we’re interacting with. Yet the Internet can also deliver connections we’d never have had otherwise. I hope that the support and aroha Roger is receiving from around the world helps comfort him in this sad time.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Incompetence rising

Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development and Employment, appeared on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme this morning and with the first question out of the gate it was obvious she was there only to spin and spout the National party’s talking points.

Breakfast isn’t even close to a hard news programme, routinely serving up soft, fluffy questions, but, much to my surprise, co-host Petra Bagust began the interview with a tough question. She asked if, since National has now been in government for a term, whether they had to take some responsibility for the rise in NZ’s unemployment rate. “Well, we have to think about what we inherited,” Bennett said, spinning the excuses and propaganda faster than an ice skater can twirl.

Bennett touted infrastructure spending as something that created jobs, but somehow forgot to mention that such jobs were temporary. She also tried to dismiss the rise in unemployment, suggesting that people are “going into study”, as if to imply they don’t count, they’re not really unemployed.

The solution? Increasing “business confidence”, as if the business sector is suffering from chronic depression. Bennett is full of it. Jobs aren’t being created because businesses aren’t getting enough business because people aren’t spending. It has nothing to do with “confidence”—that’s just typical rightwing propaganda—but has everything to do with getting people spending again, and people need jobs to be able to do that.

But, then, why are we worried? Bennett preached, “there are jobs out there”. With any luck, after November Bennett can test out that theory by looking for a new job for herself.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

And voting we will go—eventually

Today the prime minister, John Key, announced the date of this year’s New Zealand elections—Saturday, November 26—saying the early announcement "creates certainty for New Zealanders and allows people to plan accordingly." It may be “unprecedented”, as the media have called it, for a date to be announced 10 months in advance, though I haven’t been able to verify that’s the case.

At any rate, some folks are saying that setting an election date 10 months in advance, combined with campaigning on an agenda of “privatising” (selling off, actually) state-owned assets means that Key and the National Party are confident of re-election. I don’t know it that’s true, but if it is, it could also mean overconfidence.

In any case, it will be a pretty raucous 10 months.

End of the world

This video from The Thinking Atheist sums up my feeling on the imaginary end of the world on May 21 better than I could, and I’d be a whole lot more mocking and condescending if I tried. I’ve never been particularly tolerant of fanatical religious belief, and I always used to think that rightwingers’ obsession with what I consider to be the nonsense of the “end of days” was laughably funny. I’m not laughing as much anymore.

I stopped laughing when the believers in “end times” moved into positions of power. The rightwing obsession with Israel has everything to do with rightwing Christians’ belief that they must support Israel in order to bring about the “Armageddon” (another thing I don’t believe in) and “end of days”. Focusing your energies and political policies on bringing about on the end of the world is really pretty sick, in my opinion.

I’m sure that this attitude is to be expected from someone like me—politically liberal and completely secular and un-religious. But, to be fair, I don’t buy into superstitions in general, like the Mayan calendar thing or Nostradamus. Let’s just say I’m a secularist and sceptic and leave it at that for now.

While I find the current fad for believing the world will end May 21 to be hilarious, I also find it sad that people would actually believe it. Still, people have the right to believe whatever they want to—but they don’t have the right to expect anyone else to believe the same, and they also don’t have a right to expect me or anyone else to take them or their beliefs seriously.

Maybe the larger issues here are something I should expand on more. I think I’ll schedule that now: For May 22, 2011.