Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brash agenda

Failed leader of the NZ National Party, and current leader of the neoconservative Act Party, Don Brash, has done it again. Speaking to the annual conference of Federated Farmers, the conservative famers’ union and lobbying group, Brash said that the staff who work at the lower levels of local and regional government are "little Hitlers". The reason? What he and other “rightwhingers” consider to be an overzealous enforcement of the Resource Management Act—meaning, any decision they don’t like. Yeah, totally like the “big Hittler…”

But Brash also played the race card yet again over rules requiring consultation with Māori, something he thinks should be abolished because he says communities should be consulted without “racial preference”. He often says similar things, and that appeals not only to racists, but also to conservatives of the near right who think it sounds reasonable. They don’t realise that Brash is really advocating that Māori have little or no say in decisions. Since Māori are a minority, without rules requiring consultation it would be easy for Pākeha like Brash to call the shots, whether Māori like it or not. That’s a direct abrogation of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Then to complete his pandering to farmers, he also said that Act wants to dump the Emissions Trading Scheme. He revealed that he’s a climate change denier, arguing that rising global temperatures don’t matter, anyway, because that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (seriously) because people live in both Singapore and Finland, which are very different. Yeah, he’s really that crazy—or stupid, I’m really not sure which it is.

All this from a man who wants to be part of Government—and he will be if National wins the next election. Don Brash is one of the best reasons to vote to change the government.

Another wowser loss

From time to time I’ve posted when someone lodges a complaint with the Broadcast Standards Authority or the Advertising Standards Authority, particularly when the complaint deals with gay issues. They’re sometimes instructive, but nearly always entertaining.

More often than not these complaints are lodged by wowsers and/or members of the Grumpy Brigade, both of whom are perpetually grumpy and imagining themselves to victims of some sort. Usually, they have no merit. Sometimes, they come completely out of nowhere.

Such a complaint was lodged against the promotional poster for “Out Takes 2011 – A Reel Queer Film Festival” held in Auckland in Wellington (Complaint 11/309, available online). According to the decision, “A large image taking up most of the poster was of two men, with naked torsos embracing and about to kiss. Wording in the top corner of the poster said ‘Hot Movies, Cool Nights’.”

The poster was not pornographic, and not any different as far as I can see from ads with man/woman models. Nevertheless, L Paton was offended that the poster was in a public place, and felt it was “adult advertising that is promoting homosexuality which is unsuitable for children’s viewing.”

In his decision, the Chairman “acknowledged the sincere concerns of the Complainant with regard to the image in the poster and its suitability for use in an outdoor environment where anyone, including children, may see it.” However, the image was relevant to what was being advertised. The Chairman also ruled “in the context of the festival it was promoting, it did not meet the threshold to be likely to cause serious or widespread offence nor offend against generally prevailing community standards” and that the ad “had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and society.” There for, there had been no breach of any of advertising standards.

Until I started reading some of these decisions, I had no idea that some of these standards even existed. As a layperson, I find it amazing that they can take all complaints seriously, except, of course, they have to. Still, it’s interesting to see how the principles and standards relate to each complaint.

At any rate, this particular decision seems completely sensible to me and correct, not that my opinion matters. I’m glad to see these decisions are neither kneejerk nor reactionary, even if the complaints often seem to be both.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fighting the bad fight

In this video, Rachel Maddow looks at the tortured history of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and how the silly arguments of three decades ago stack up now. For such a simple amendment, the ERA was one of the most fiercely resisted, successfully, as it turned out. Section one said:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
That’s it: Twenty-four words that set off the original Culture Wars as the right launched a fierce counterattack that helped lay the groundwork, ultimately, for the “Reagan Revolution” of 1980. A version was originally proposed in the 1920s, but it didn’t pass both houses of Congress until 1972.

One of the leading warriors against the ERA, who is prominent in this video, was Phyllis Schlafly who, sadly, was from my home state of Illinois. I met her once, in 1979 at the Illinois Republican Presidential Forum. I thought she was annoying before then and my opinion of her only got worse from there.

She flowed into the room where the forum was being held like royalty, entourage in tow, and wearing June Cleaver-type housedress and a huge red stop sign-shaped badge demanding “Stop ERA!” in type larger than any eye chart I’ve seen. She put on her best fake smile and handed out her propaganda to attendees who, like me, were early. I don’t remember her staying to actually watch the forum.

Schlafly is a wingnut from way back. She was known for her support of 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (her self-published book in support of him, A Choice, Not an Echo, was in my university library), but in 1960 she organised a revolt of self-described “moral conservatives” against Richard Nixon for his being against segregation and discrimination.

But it was opposition to ERA for which she is best known. Her smears and defamation were legendary: She said ERA would lead to unisex public toilets, rights for gay people and “homosexual marriage”. Her antics were often achingly silly, enough so to induce eye rolling among sensible people, but they worked. I remember that one of the times the Illinois Legislature was considering the measure, she and her female minions brought freshly home-baked goods to give to legislators to remind them, she said, of what they’d be giving up if they ratified the ERA (reports at the time said even pro-ERA legislators lined up for the goodies; had I been there, I would’ve declined, thinking of the apple in "Snow White"…)

So Phyllis was a hard-line “social conservative”, as anti-gay as she was anti-woman (I remember her making anti-gay jokes as part of her anti-ERA patter). Her anti-gay positions never softened. In 2009, for example, she said in opposition to same sex marriage and civil unions that they were "[a]ttacks on the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman come from the gay lobby seeking social recognition of their lifestyle." What's with wingnuts thinking the issue is about “recognition” of any lifestyle? And for that matter, whose lifestyle in particular? No two gay people I know have the same lifestyle, after all. But that’s a topic for another day.

The first irony in this that in 1972, when the ERA was first passed by Congress, I was mostly indifferent (mind you, I was 13 at the time…). By the time ratification finally failed in 1982, I was an ardent supporter. Phyllis helped push me in that direction—and out of the Republican Party—so I suppose in a twisted way I owe her thanks.

But the biggest irony is about the states: 21 US states have a version of the ERA in their state constitutions (16 of them ratified ERA, 5 didn’t). NONE of them have mandated “unisex public toilets” because of it. Six of the states that ratified ERA now have marriage equality—without the ERA ever being ratified. So, Phyllis was demonstrably wrong about the “consequences” of the ERA. I’d say she was—and is—wrong about everything. But she and her fellow extremist wingnuts are still in the way.

The sham of it all

New Zealand has a new astroturf organisation trying to get voters to vote against their own best interests by choosing to dump MMP in the coming referendum. Fortunately, New Zealand voters are learning what a sham—and a scam—the group really is.

“Vote for Change” presents itself as a grassroots organisation when, in fact, it’s actually a tool of Peter Shirtcliffe, the wealthy businessman who tried to prevent the adoption of MMP in the first place (for more on the organisation of the group, see Rob Salmond’s post on Pundit, “Behind the Curtain at Vote for Change”). The group also claims celebrity supporters, including former Labour Party president Bob Harvey, which is only intended to give an appearance of multi-party support when, in fact, it’s a tool of the business elites to destroy proportional representation.

The wealthy right and business elites hate MMP passionately because it means we get governments they cannot control; instead, MMP gives us democratic governments that deliver the policies that voters, not the elites, demand. If they don’t, voters can turf them out and change direction, something that also irritates the elites.

The group’s campaign is all about harping on the supposed flaws of MMP while refusing to say what system they would choose instead. This led the New Zealand Herald’s John Armstrong to declare that the group “does not deserve to be taken seriously”. He said, “By not indicating a preference, Vote for Change can keep pointing out the flaws of MMP without supporters of MMP being able to retort.”

But what of the supposed “flaws” with MMP? We hear about them on talkback radio, in the letters to the editor columns of newspapers and in comments posted on newspaper web sites. However, those are all favoured by the right wing, and they repeat the same talking points without analysis or, one would suppose, any real or critical thought.

Armstrong highlights some of the deception in the criticisms of MMP, but writing on Pundit, Andrew Geddis pretty much eviscerates all of Vote for Change’s criticisms of MMP point-by-point. “You can Vote for Change…but why?” is a must-read for anyone who wants to know what the big deal is.

The real agenda of Vote for Change seems to be to help the National Party by minimising or slowing down the effects of gradual shift to pro-Labour Party demographics in New Zealand. As Armstrong put it, “Vote for Change looks very much like the National Party Preservation Society in drag.”

The self-interested elites of Vote for Change aren’t concerned about democracy, and certainly not about fairness in representation. What they want is government that will advance its interests—and, of course, wealth—to the detriment of the vast majority of New Zealand. Fortunately, we can see right through their scam.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guest on a podcast premiere

This week, I was part of the panel on a new podcast, This Week in Gay. The debut episode was posted yesterday. The other panellists were by Satyr69 from the Satyrsphere Podcast, David of That Blue Jeans Guy Podcast, JayT from JayTOnline, and Matthew from Spanking Bea Arthur. The host, and creator of the podcast, is Anthony from A Shanty No Lemon.

Anthony’s idea was to resurrect the group discussions of a former podcast. He wrote: “Join us as we discuss this week’s news affecting the Gay community. Leave your feedback at www.ThisWeekInGay.com.” I like what Anthony is doing with the podcast, and I think it’ll get even better as it gets going. Personally, I think it takes most podcasts awhile to start to “work”, but maybe that was just true for me.

Anyway, for a group discussion on current events, check out This Week in Gay.

The election is coming

This video is typical of the ads that the government runs around election time to encourage people to register to vote. I’ve always thought it was interesting that they don’t say that registering to vote is mandatory, but instead stress how easy it is to enrol. I like to encourage registration, too, which is why I added the enrolment PSA ad in the top of the sidebar at right. We received our Enrolment Update Packs, of course, so we’re good to go.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Pink Triangle: Never forget

This video by Sean Chapin shows San Francisco’s annual Pink Triangle event. The event commemorates the homosexual victims of the Nazis by placing their symbol for gay men, the Pink Triangle, on a mountainside. The group says of their event:
“The goal of the Pink Triangle ceremony is to remind people that even though the hatred that existed in Germany 70 years ago that led to the creation of the Pink Triangle no longer exists there, such hatred certainly persists in many parts of the world including Uganda, Malawi, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
No one has any idea how many gay men—or men merely labelled homosexual—were murdered in Nazi death camps, but conservative estimates have placed the number of dead at 50-65,000. But those numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

When the Nazi death camps were liberated, gay men who managed to survive were treated, restored to health, and then returned to prison to serve out the remainder of their sentence. The men had been convicted under Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, originally enacted in Bismarck’s time and expanded under the Nazis.

East Germany reverted to the old version of the law in 1950, limited it to youths under 18 in 1969, then abolished altogether in 1988. Supposedly free and democratic West Germany, however, kept the Nazi-era version until 1969 when it was limited somewhat. It was fiddled with again in 1973, but it was not finally revoked completely until 1994, after German re-unification.

This is one aspect of history that few people know about or, if they do, not in any great detail. I didn’t know about it until I came out and started reading gay history. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” as George Santayana put it. All too often that seems to be true.

So I applaud the Project for keeping the memory alive, and Sean Chapin for so beautifully capturing it. We, too, have reason to say: Nie vergessen – Never Forget.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


The anti-gay industry is really predictable. I knew it wouldn’t take long for them to move into full froth mode in the wake of the victory in New York yesterday. I wasn’t disappointed as they responded with typically hysterical—in both senses—hyperbolic nonsense.

The spokesbigot for the hate group “Family” Research Council (http://tinyurl.com/3nvuspl) implied that New York state senators were bribed: “As we go forward there is little doubt that the 'incentives,' some taxpayer funded, used to sway votes, especially Republican ones, will be exposed." I also laughed at him when he kvetched, “A clear majority of the people of New York oppose [sic] counterfeit [sic] ‘marriage,’ but Gov. Cuomo and anti-family [sic] lawmakers have shown that their allegiance is to a small but vocal minority seeking to redefine [sic] marriage and family.”

I’ll help him out here by correcting his erroneous statements: A clear majority of New Yorkers favoured marriage equality. It can’t be counterfeit if it’s legal, which, by definition is what makes it “marriage”. His church might not like such marriages, but that doesn’t make them legally counterfeit. Being pro-family for ALL families, including GLBT families, does not make someone anti-family; that’s just crazy talk. Nothing was redefined: Marriage is still the union of two adults. There, I think that fixes his, er, um, accidental misstatements, so I’ll add a point of my own: The number of gay people is irrelevant and always has been; human rights must never be doled out only to those who have the greatest numbers.

Meanwhile, the spokesbigot for another hate group, the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage, issued threats (http://tinyurl.com/3gyz2fa), warning “The [New York Republican] party will pay a grave price.” She then went on pledging that her group “has committed $2 million to persuading Republicans: Voting for gay marriage has consequences. Sad that the NY GOP has caved. Consequences to be continued.”

Funnily enough, threatening politicians in her party who didn’t vote the way she wanted is exactly the same behaviour she whined about Democrats doing to anti-gay Democratic politicians. So, it’s okay for her to work to defeat politicians who don’t vote against gay people, but our side isn’t allowed to work to defeat anti-gay politicians, is that it? Mags is really funny, eh? But, then, you realty can’t expect anything less than hypocrisy from a group that has defied court orders to turn over lists of contributors and which flouts campaign disclosure laws everywhere it operates.

The American “Family” Association hate group used their “news” website to insert their opinions into a news story (http://tinyurl.com/3f372dm): “Republican state senators surrendered to pressure” in voting for marriage quality, because, apparently a Republican can’t possibly support equality and fairness since their group is incapable of doing so.

Bam Bam, the BFF of Porno Pete, Tweeted: “Gay ‘marriage’ silliness: Sad for NY. Sad for America. Yet not unexpected. We mock God & He obliges. Buckle in. Rough ride ahead.” Various gods immediately joined together to file a defamation lawsuit against Bam Bam, alleging that he has impugned their integrity by suggesting they’re against gay people. Well, hey, if he can say something so incredibly stupid about a god, I can, too. I am obviously mocking Bam Bam here, not his god, because Bam Bam deserves it.

Bam Bam followed that up today with “Sad: Desperate for affirmation of objectively disordered & immoral behavior, 'gays' know deep down it can & will never be 'marriage.' #Truth” You know what Bam Bam? I couldn’t possibly care less whether you “affirm” any of my behaviours, but I don’t have any that are “disordered & immoral”, unlike your bigotry in action which even your god would condemn. It’s in that holy book you refer to all the time—in the parts you skip over.

Porno Pete, meanwhile, Tweeted today: “Every homosex'l activst victory (eg, same-sex *marriage* in #NY) is a rebuke to our biblical heritage. Why should 'God Bless America'?” What’s with the asterisks, Petey? That’s usually used to indicate boldface, but you think marriage equality isn’t "real" marriage, so shouldn’t you have used quote marks? Also, maybe your god hates gay people, but there are plenty of real Christians who disagree with your counterfeit interpretation.

And finally, in order to give normal people the final word, here’s a news report video that includes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signing the bill into law.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A huge victory for justice

Today, New York became the sixth US state to enact marriage equality (the video above is of the announcement of the vote totals in the state senate). This is a very big deal for many reasons, including population numbers and what those numbers mean for the country.

The five states that had marriage equality before today were: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia, which is not a state. They had a total population (figures as of April 1, 2010) of 15,712,015, or 5.09% of the total population of the US including the District of Columbia.

New York’s population is 19,378,102, so 35,090,117, or 11.36% of the US population, now live where there is full marriage equality. New York singlehandedly more than doubled the number of Americans who live in free states.

In addition, a total of 23,883,704 Americans (or 7.73%) live in the four partly free states with civil unions, but not marriage equality. Those four states are: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey.

So, as of today, 58,973,821 Americans (19.10%) live in states with strong official recognition of same sex relationships, either full marriage or civil unions.

Three states—California, Maine and Washington—have “domestic partnership” laws, but they offer significantly fewer rights and protections than civil unions, which is why they aren’t counted when talking about partnership recognition for same sex couples. Nevertheless, 45,306,857 Americans (14.67%) are covered by domestic partnership laws of some sort, and that’s more than the percentage who now have marriage equality.

If we count domestic partnerships along with civil unions and full marriage equality, there are now 104,280,678 Americans—33.77%, more than a third—who live in states with at least some protections for same-sex couples. When California’s Proposition 8 is finally overturned and marriage equality is restored there, three-quarters of those 104,280,678 Americans will live in states with full marriage equality (which goes to show what a big deal California is, too).

All of these numbers ultimately mean one thing: The tide in the US has turned, and the country is moving rapidly toward embracing full marriage equality. We’ll now see the anti-gay industry re-doubling their efforts, shouting louder, lying more outrageously and defaming GLBT people at every opportunity. As their losses mount, they’ll resort to desperation tactics, which, ironically, will hasten their final defeat by showing mainstream Americans how crazy the anti-gay industry really is.

So, the victory in New York is important for many reasons: The freedom it brings to New Yorkers, the symbolism of such a large state becoming a free state, and the fact that it means a third of Americans live in a state with at least some formal recognition for same-sex couples. For all these reasons, this is a huge victory for justice.

The truth is blindingly obvious

In this special comment, Current TV’s Keith Olbermann takes another stand for marriage equality and again says the blindingly obvious: The existence of marriage equality doesn’t matter anymore.

Keith correctly points out that marriage equality strengthens marriage and community, while it obviously won’t destroy religion (always a stupid argument). Keith also points out something I’ve been saying: The desperate and increasingly panicky members of the anti-gay industry are so desperate and panicky because full legal equality for GLBT people will take away their source of income because they won’t be able to frighten people over gays anymore. Good. I hope all those groups go broke.

Just as with Keith's Special Comment after California’s Proposition 8 passed, it’s good to hear straight allies speaking out on behalf of marriage eqaulity—even though all reasonable and rational people know comments like this are just saying the blindingly obvious.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Has Obama Done Enough For Gay Rights?

In this video, Cenk Uygur looks at the question of whether President Obama has “done enough” for GLBT people. It’s a stupid question.

Let me be clear: President Obama is dead wrong on marriage equality: Civil unions are not a substitute for real marriage. It’s time for the president to stop “evolving” and get there and support full equality for GLBT people.

However, Dan Choi is also wrong, possibly because he doesn’t know history. As Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign says, this president has done more than any other president for GLBT equality than any other president in history.

President Bill Clinton told GLBT people, “I have a vision of America, and you’re part of it.” What we got was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. To this day, some gay people still sing the praises of Bill Clinton.

President Obama promised to be a “fierce advocate” for GLBT Americans, and what we got was enactment of gay-inclusive hate crimes legislation, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (incomplete), the decision to refuse to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, and countless appointments of gay people to positions within the government—including the Ambassador to New Zealand. And despite all that, Barack Obama is constantly attacked by GLBT activists.

Why? Why should Bill Clinton—who left GLBT Americans worse off than when he took office—be thought of so fondly, and Barack Obama—who has achieved more than Clinton ever did—be called a failure, a bigot, a homophobe? I truly don’t understand.

I think that part of it is that “conventional wisdom” takes on a life of its own, even when it’s dead wrong. So, activists and pundits say Obama hasn’t delivered anything for GLBT people and that becomes the truth—real truth notwithstanding.

President Obama is definitely not perfect, but that’s true generally, not just on GLBT issues. I always ask his GLBT critics the one question they can never answer: Name even one of the Republican candidates who would be even half as good. It’s simply not possible. The choice will be between President Obama and an openly, probably proudly, anti-gay Republican. I know who will get my vote, and there won't be any elephants around.

To answer Cenk's question: Until we are fully equal, NO president can do enough.

Protecting their own

The business elites are drawing their wagons around embattled CEO of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (EMA), Alasdair Thompson. According to the Dominion Post (via Stuff), EMA’s northern president. Graham Mountfort, said EMA backs Thompson:
"If you take the comments in context, we don't believe they were perhaps as outrageous as has been painted. I imagine it would be something that would fire people up."
People are “fired up” precisely because they took those comments in context—the comments and Thompsons repeated defence of them.

Cameron Brewer, chair of Auckland Council's Business Advisory Panel, of which Thompson is also a member, was tone-deaf in defence of Thompson:
"At some point or another most people say something stupid at work which they regret. That is exactly what Alasdair has done and he has unreservedly apologised."
No, he didn’t—he went on and repeated the same remarks endlessly, defending them as being fact, even though he couldn’t produce a shred of evidence to support his idiotic remarks. Saying you’re sorry if anyone was offended by your remarks is NOT the same thing as actually apologising—and actually being sorry—for what you said.

Brewer also declared that, “[Thompson’s] employers have no doubt voiced their huge dissatisfaction and disappointment but are standing by him given his overall contribution." Where’s the evidence that they disapprove? Graham Mountfort’s comments clearly show that the EMA agrees with Thompson or, at least, doesn’t get why Thompson’s remarks were so deeply offensive. Neither does Cameron Brewer, obviously.

Let’s be clear once again: There isn’t a shred of credible evidence to back Thompson’s sexist and misogynistic remarks. In fact, what little evidence is available suggests he was completely wrong, not just merely wrong. Thompson’s problem isn’t that “socialists” and “PC” people don’t agree with him, it’s that he’s dead wrong. Blaming others for pointing out how wrong he is doesn’t make Thompson any less wrong.

Still, there are lessons to take from what Lew at Kiwipolitico calls “an epic failure of communication”. I hope that even Alasdair Thompson will take the time to reflect and to learn from his “epic failure”.

My previous post on this subject: Doing the business class proud?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Slow walk to equality

One of the issues I’m most passionate about is marriage equality, an issue that’s had its share of both advances and set-backs in recent years. In New Zealand, progress seems to have stalled.

As part of a New Zealand Herald series called “Broadsides,” the paper asked Labour’s Jacinda Ardern and National’s Nikki Kaye, “Do you support same-sex marriage?” Kaye is currently the MP for Auckland Central, normally a Labour stronghold, with some of the most progressive voters in New Zealand. Ardern, a rising star in the Labour Party, will contest the election for the party.

Not surprisingly for candidates representing a progressive electorate, they both support marriage equality. Ardern demonstrated in support of the Civil Union Act, and says she’d vote for marriage equality because:
“I don't believe it's for me, the state, or anyone else to determine how a couple wants their relationship recognised; that is for them to decide. But it is absolutely our job to remove the barriers that stop people from having the same choices as everyone else and to ensure we are all treated equally and fairly by the law.”
Kaye says “While I accept and recognise Labour's contribution in progressing gay and lesbian rights, one of the reasons why I support National is that a core principle of the party is personal freedom.” She might want to remind her fellow National Party caucus members of that “core principle”, because Prime Minister John Key, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and all other long-term National MPs all voted against the Civil Unions Act: The three members of the National Party caucus to vote for the law—Clem Simich, Katherine Rich and Pansy Wong—are all gone from Parliament. So, I have a tough time believing that National has a “core principle” of personal freedom or, if it does, that there’s an asterisk explaining that the “core principle” doesn’t include GLBT people.

Having said that, she does note another issue:
“The bigger issue for me is the inability of same-sex couples to adopt. The adoption law is outdated, archaic, and there are many anomalies. For instance non-married couples aren't currently permitted to adopt children, although people in non-marital relationships can adopt as individuals. I feel very sad that many New Zealanders who would make great parents are denied the opportunity to adopt. Everybody loses, including some of our most disadvantaged children.”
That has nothing to do with marriage equality itself, but she’s absolutely right about that and about how enacting marriage equality will be largely symbolic. But symbolism matters, especially when it’s your government telling you that you’re equal to all other citizens.

The National Party will not be promoting marriage equality. Neither will the Labour Party. Opposition Leader Phil Goff took part in a “live chat” on Twitter this time last month, and he was asked about marriage equality. He answered, “Labour supported civil unions, when National opposed them. Not intending to make further changes.”

Doing the business class proud?

There was an eruption of outrage today, and justifiably so: Alasdair Thompson, the CEO of the Employers & Manufacturers' Association (EMA), a business lobby group, said among the most boneheaded things that I’ve ever heard a political person in New Zealand say (transcript from Kiwipolitico):
Alasdair Thompson: “Let me get down to tin tacks here. It is unfortunate, if you like, that men and women are different –”

Helen Kelly [Council of Trade Unions President]: [incredulous laughter]

AT: “– they are. The fact is, women have babies, they take time out of their careers to have babies. Women have — look, I don’t like saying this, this is how contentious this is, but here’s a fact of life. If you really want to keep some statistics, look at who takes the most sick leave. Why do they take the most sick leave? Women do in general. Why? Because, ah, you know, once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do. They have children that they have to take time off to go home and take leave of. Therefore their productivity — not their fault, it’s … it may be because they haven’t got it sorted out with their partners, where the partners take more responsibility for what happens outside work. There are all of these issues, and none of this is covered in these statistics that this bill wants to sort out. Now, I’m sorry, I don’t like saying these things because it sounds like I’m sexist, but it’s a fact of life.”

HK: “Sure does, Alasdair, I’m glad you said them, it’s fantastic. I let you go on that one.”
I was gobsmacked when I read that—I’ve seldom read anything so stupid anywhere, certainly not in New Zealand (and be sure to read the post at Kiwipolitico, because I couldn’t possible agree with Lew more; it also has a link to an audio file if you want to hear it for yourself). Interviewed on Prime News, Thompson said that “socialists” and “PC” people don’t like to admit that men and women are different (yes, seriously!), and he gave a non-apology apology if anyone was offended, but not for what he said.

On TV One’s news, Thompson again asserted that he was correct and figures backed him up. But TV One checked out his claim with all the folks who would have such statistics: Statistics New Zealand, The Department of Labour, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and none of them could support Thompson’s wild ravings. In fact, it was revealed that at TVNZ, men actually took slightly more sick leave than women did.

This guy can be a troglodyte if he wants to be, and as head of the EMA he’s paid to promote a rightwing agenda. However, while Thompson and the EMA are entitled to their own opinions, they’re not entitled to their own facts. Trotting out known falsehoods, smears and defamation, or flat out making shit up, just to score political points is not acceptable from someone trying to influence legislation.

If Alasdair Thompson doesn’t resign, then we must conclude that the member businesses of the EMA wholeheartedly agree with him. It’s not enough to denounce Thompson’s rabidly sexist remarks (defended by him at every opportunity since): Either Thompson should go or the businesses that disagree with him should quit the EMA.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Barriers to change

Nearly a week ago, I posted videos of two Republicans who support civil unions for same-sex couples. One of them, former Utah Governor John Huntsman, has now declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president.

In the video above, Huntsman is interviewed by Fox “News” performer Sean Hannity. Sean, a hard-right whackadoodle on his best days, dismisses some of Huntsman’s positions as not being conservative, because to Hannity, and many others in the Republican Party, there's only one kind of conservative: Hard right on both economic and social issues, and that especially means being anti-gay, including opposing civil unions for same-sex couples.

When I last mentioned Huntsman’s support for civil unions, I said that the problem for him and other Republicans like him is that “the machinery of the party is firmly in the hands of those hard-right activists, who are also far more likely to vote in Republican primaries than are the less rigidly ideological majority of Republican voters.” Sean kind of proved my point about the opposition hard right Republicans have to people like Huntsman.

I also said that Huntsman was no moderate, and his answers to Sean’s questions amply demonstrate that—especially his answers on civil unions. Sure, he supports them for gay couples, and that’s pretty unusual for a Republican politician, but he also clearly sees them as being a legally vastly inferior thing to marriage, apparently covering only things like hospital visitation rights and similar things. What he’s really talking about isn’t civil unions at all, but rather a kind of domestic partnership registry to give same sex couples a few of the some 2,000 rights heterosexual couples get through marriage.

Still, credit where it’s due: Huntsman’s position, backward though it still is, nevertheless is a major advance for a Republican politician—and especially for a Mormon Republican politician, given that church’s public hostility and antagonism toward GLBT people.

These are baby steps, sure, but they’re still steps, after all, and that party needs to learn to walk upright before it can lead.

A lot of little things

There are always stories in the news that I have a thought about, but not enough thoughts to justify a full blog post. Mostly those just pass without comment from me, but then sometimes I do a post like this one to keep those smaller thoughts from escaping (as they probably should be allowed to do). These are all related to New Zealand politics:

Record numbers of Kiwis leave for Australia

Last month, the number of Kiwis moving to Australia permanently/long term hit a 32-year high, as New Zealand continues to have lower wages and higher unemployment than our neighbours across the ditch. Annual net migration into New Zealand has also dropped dramatically over last year, and is about a third of the 20-year average. All of which makes me wonder if increasing numbers of Kiwis aren’t voting against National/Act government policies with their feet.

Who to trust?

Readers Digest has been asking New Zealanders who they trust for a long time now. The 2011 Reader's Digest Trust Survey has three scientists as the top three most-trusted—but I wouldn’t know who any of them are without their description. Actually, that’s true for many of, say, the top third of the list. So, that makes me wonder: Were those polled told who these people are before they ranked them? If not, and no disrespect intended to anyone on the list, I doubt ordinary Kiwis would know who they were ranking.

At any rate, it IS kind of interesting that the leaders of all the parties in Parliament, along with Bill English, fill the bottom eight positions—except for one: Greens male Co-Leader, Russel Norman, is at 79, making him the “least distrusted”, as he put it, Member of Parliament.

Tweeting politicians

New Zealand’s Electoral Commission has issued new guidelines for MPs, saying they can use Twitter to express their own, personal opinions without it being electoral advertising. In typical fashion, the Commission also made thing less clear by saying that such Tweets MAY be considered electoral advertising if such Tweets include official party positions. Well, that’s clear, eh? Seriously, we’re a parliamentary system, so wouldn’t MPs Tweet the official party position on the issues all the time?

The above linked article included a brief explanation of why New Zealand campaigns don’t have bumper stickers like US election campaigns: “The Electoral Commission has warned political parties not to hand out bumper stickers because they could still be on cars on election day, meaning the car owner was inadvertently breaking the law.” Inadvertently or deliberately, actually. To be honest, I miss political bumper stickers and wish some way could be found to allow them, like maybe a limit of one per car or something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chicago Cubs: It Gets Better

It’s the turn of the Chicago Cubs to do a video for the “It Gets Better” project. The San Francisco Giants were the first MLB team to make such a video.

Older gay people often smirk and deride these videos, saying “It’s just a PR exercise!” Or, they’ll criticise the people in the video, asking “where are the stars?” Those are actually valid points—but totally and completely irrelevant.

When I was growing up in Illinois, my dad watched baseball, as countless other fathers did and still do. Sometimes I watched those Chicago Cubs games, too, or parts of them. But I saw baseball as a largely hostile, overtly and overly “macho” place where I wasn’t really welcome, and I felt that way even before I really understood why.

So hearing the Cubs Manager say, as Mike Quade did, “The Chicago Cubs organization celebrates you for exactly who you are, gay or straight” would have been completely and totally unimaginable to me as a kid and teenager. Had I heard such a message, I know I would’ve felt a little less alone, a little less isolated.

The times have gotten better since then, but GLBT kids still struggle to come to terms with their identity in a world that, despite improvements, is still largely hostile toward them. Hearing the message from Mike Quade is great for them, as is hearing Cubs Pitcher Ryan Dempster tell them, “Stay strong and be true to yourself. It gets better.”

Fathers hearing those messages may realise that a kid who is gay or lesbian is valued by the Chicago Cubs, and that just may help them to value their own child, as well. Small changes make big change, after all.

This is not an out-of-the-blue action for the Cubs, either. After the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs, and out-lesbian Laura Ricketts joined the board, moves were made to make the organisation more, well, modern. The team even had a float for the first time ever in Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, which passes just a couple streets away from Wrigley Field.

So to the whiners and whingers, I say, simply, shut up unless you’re doing something constructive to help. We all know that the Cubs will catch flak from the local members of the anti-gay industry, so if they get a little positive PR spin out of participating in the video project, that’s fine by me: The point is still that they’re issuing a positive message of support to GLBT youth—AND adults.

Go Cubbies!

The members of the Chicago Cubs organization in this video, in order of appearance, are: Mike Quade – Manager, Bob Dernier – First Base Coach, Ryan Dempster – Pitcher, Marlon Byrd – Outfielder; Darwin Barney – Infielder and Laura Ricketts – Board of Directors.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This is what it’s all about

Forget the polemics and arguments, this video shows what the marriage equality debate is really all about: Love. Richard Dorr (84) & John Mace (91) have been waiting 61 years for the right to marry.

Richard says, “The only sanctifying element in a marriage is what the two people bring to it. It’s not by somebody saying words.” John adds, speaking of the younger generation: “They deserve better than what we had… It’s terrible to be looked down on and considered a second-class citizen.”

I hope the New York state senate does right by them.

Keith Olbermann returns—for some

The new version of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown debuts tomorrow on Current TV. Let me say first that I’m glad he’s returning—this is good news when there are so few liberal voices available. Sadly, however, I won’t be one of his viewers anymore.

I used to listen to Keith’s old MSNBC show as an audio podcast, sometimes downloading the video versions, sometimes watching them on the website if I wanted to see the visuals. However, all of Current TV’s “podcasts” are either short excerpts or mere promotional videos. They say on their site: “Unfortunately, there will not be audio or video podcasts of full episodes of Countdown available for download because our agreements with our cable and satellite distributors do not allow us to do so.”

Really? It’s hard to believe that’s true because I wouldn’t have thought that Current TV could be stupid enough as to have signed such an agreement that MSNBC, for example, clearly didn’t. It makes it impossible for them to achieve their stated goal: “We want Current TV to be available to the largest viewing audience possible,” especially because Current TV isn’t available everywhere in the US, and hardly at all overseas. Their site doesn’t offer live-streaming of their content, nor recorded versions of full episodes, no matter how old they may be (MSNBC has recorded versions of their shows on their site, and many other content providers do the same).

Current says of itself: “Unlike most other cable networks on the dial, we are not owned by one of the large media conglomerates. We are independent and that means we have the freedom to air programming that shines a light where others won’t dare and boldly explores important subjects through intelligent commentary.” Independent? Maybe. But they’ve shown themselves to be an “old media” operation, firmly locked in the 20th century paradigm of viewers having to sit down in front of a television in order to watch a show when the broadcaster tells you to (yes, you can record it like any other TV show, but their old-fashioned control of viewer consumption of content is the real point).

Current TV needs to catch up with the times if it really wants to achieve its goals. It needs to offer its content for people to consume when and where they want (heck, they could even make full episodes available for paid subscription, as some Fox “News” programmes are). Until they catch up, Current TV will remain an “also ran” in the newsmedia game, and considering how the field is dominated by corporate media, most of it pretty rightwing or very rightwing, that situation’s not good for anyone.

Keith has many fans, but Current’s making it impossible for all of them to follow him to his new show. I sincerely hope that the new Countdown is a runaway hit, succeeding far beyond their wildest imagination, with lots of new fans to make up for the ones who cannot follow Keith. After all, America desperately needs more intelligent and liberal voices. I’m just sorry I won’t be able to hear Keith or any of the others from Current TV.

Update: Current is releasing some excerpts of the show as video podcasts, usually the day after it aired.  Also included are some of the "web extras".

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Liars, Incorporated

Brian Brown, the head bigot at the hate group National Organisation for Man-Lady-Only marriage, is once again caught lying in this video in which he faces New York state legislator Daniel O’Donnell, who succeeded in getting marriage equality through New York’s lower house—several times.

Brian lies about adoption, even though marriage laws have nothing to do with adoption. He lied and said that in Illinois, adoption agencies “were told” they’d have to comply with the state’s new law—even though Illinois has civil unions, not marriage. But aside from getting his facts wrong, he bald-faced, outright lied about that: The truth is that adoption agencies run by the Roman Catholic Church—which actively lobbied against the Civil Union law—have decided to grandstand on the issue by pre-emptively saying they intend to abandon these homeless children, turning them over to the care of the State of Illinois. The state has done NOTHING, the Roman Catholic Church is playing stupid, crass and heartless political games at children’s expense.

Not coincidentally, the Roman Catholic Church in New York has also been politically active lobbying against marriage equality. As this video mentions, New York City’s archbishop made some of the dumbest arguments against it I’ve heard anywhere, that enacting marriage equality would make the US just like North Korea. Similarly, it would of course mean it would turn apples into hot dogs.

O’Donnell pointed out—correctly—that there have never been any “negative” consequences from marriage equality. This is why Brown, his group and the rest of the anti-gay industry lie all the time: They have nothing rational or truthful to use in argument against marriage equality—because there is no rational, secular argument that they can make.

I have to admit that I laughed out loud toward the end of the video when poor, little Bry-Bry whines and whinges about being called a bigot, him and his group, too. Well, I have some advice for Brian and his hurt feelings: If you don’t want to be called a bigot, then stop acting like a bigot. It’s that simple and easy, Brian.

Really, you can almost detect the rancid air of desperation in the increasingly hysterical screaming of the anti-gay industry. The tide has turned against them, and they know it. They know their luck has run out, and they’re kicking and screaming all the way to oblivion.

Well, not oblivion, exactly: I’m sure they’re find some other group to demonise and lie about so they can continue to raise millions of dollars to fund their luxury lifestyle choices. It's what they do.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The colonel’s premiere

A 17-minute New Zealand short film about two gay men finding love in their twilight years, The Colonel’s Outing, will have its New Zealand premiere next month, after a successful run at film festivals. The synopsis is: “Two old war veterans find love in a rest home—but why is Matron so disturbed by their blossoming relationship?”

Christopher Banks, who I first heard of when he produced a dance version of an Air Supply song many years ago, directed the film. This was the first film I'd heard of that used "crowdfunding", or turning to the Internet to raise funds directly.

The cast, director Christopher Banks and producer Andy Jalfon will be at the premiere. In addition to the film itself, the programme contains behind-the-scenes clips from the making of the film interspersed with a Q&A, and an opportunity to discuss some of the issues raised and the challenges involved with bringing this story to the screen.

The 70-minute programme, including the premiere of The Colonel's Outing, will be July 14, 2011 at the Rialto Newmarket, 167-169 Broadway, Newmarket, Auckland, beginning at 7pm.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Democrats, too

I have little tolerance or patience for and with the Republican Party. That’s no surprise to anyone. But the bitter truth is, I really don’t like the Democrats, either.

Okay, first things first: I can’t even imagine voting for a Republican—for any office. Just not going to happen. However, far too often I’d vote for Democrats only because they’re not Republicans.

Democrats talk a good story, but they don’t deliver for me: They claim to be for gay people, yet there’s still no ENDA, no repeal of DOMA, no immigration equality, nothing but words. The only thing they have going for them is that they’re not Republicans who are, without a shadow of a doubt, far, far worse on all those issues.

I don’t criticise Democrats as much as Republicans simply by default: They’re not AS bad, they’re not AS homophobic as Republicans are—they’re not AS hypocritical as Republicans are—right?

The treatment of now former Representative Anthony Weiner was disgusting. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and the rest are, in my opinion, partisan pigs no different than their Republican counterparts (except, of course, Republicans never have to resign in such circumstances). I’ve already talked about this, and have no intention of repeating myself. Instead, I’ll add one thing: Can any of them honestly say that their perceived interest in the Democratic Party wasn’t the only thing they were thinking of? Somehow I doubt it, and that makes them the same as Republicans.

Democrats represent me only mostly because they’re not Republicans, and in America’s frankly screwed-up electoral system, only Republicans or Democrats can win elections. Far too often, Democrats will throw away principle for—well, what, exactly, I can’t say.

What I really want to see is electoral reform in the US so that I can vote for the folks who truly represent me without throwing away my vote. Until that day comes, if ever, I’ll vote for Democrats even if only because on their worst day, they’re a billion times better than Republicans on their best day.

But that’s no base on which to build a democracy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Changing policies and lives

Twelve years ago today—June 16, 1999—I wrote this in my journal: “New Zealand has a brand new permanent resident—me, of course.” It all happened because of a policy change.

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, the country had policies in place so that a NZ citizen or resident could sponsor their foreign partner for residence. However, the waiting period for a same-sex couple was four years (they could apply after they’d been together two years), while an unmarried heterosexual couple only had to be together two years (and they could apply after 18 months), and a married couple (heterosexual only) had virtually instant residence available to them. This was in direct violation of the Bill of Rights Act.

Discriminatory as this policy was, it was still better than the US policy is even in 2011 because it offered a way for bi-national same-sex couples to remain together in New Zealand. The US still doesn’t have any way for a gay American to sponsor their same-sex foreign partner for immigration.

Max Bradford was Minister of Immigration in the National-led government in the late 1990s, and he was asked to change the discriminatory policy. He refused, saying he wouldn’t change it “with the stroke of a pen”. Toward the end of 1998, as the result of a cabinet reshuffle due to the disintegration of the New Zealand First party, Tuariki Delamere became the new Minister of Immigration.

On December 22, 1998, Delamere announced gay and lesbian couples applying for permanent residency would have the same rights as unmarried heterosexual couples. In other words, he changed the policy with the stroke of a pen.

I’d applied for permanent residency under the old policy (that Bradford refused to change) in January of 1998. Under that policy, I wasn’t eligible to be granted residency until late 1999, by which time, in Immigration’s eyes, Nigel and I would have been together four years. Until then, my life would continue as a series of temporary visas and permits.

The policy change meant I had to withdraw my original application and re-apply under the new policy (and pay a new fee). There was actually some confusion about how to do this, but we persevered.

We had our interviews on June 16, 1999, and my application was approved. Well, it was actually our application, since it was based on us being partners. Later on, I became a New Zealand citizen, but that’s a topic for another day. [See: "12 years a citizen"]

The policy change that allowed me to become a permanent resident sooner has been modernised further: Now, for all applications under the partnership category, “A partner may be either legally married, or in a civil union, or in a de facto partnership (whether opposite or same sex).” The partners in all such relationships must “have been living together in a genuine and stable relationship for at least 12 months.” [Source: “Completing Section K - Family: Partnership Category” from the Residence Guide: A guide to completing the Residence Application (INZ 1000): (INZ 1002), November 2010, New Zealand Immigration Service, Department of Labour.]

And that’s the power of a change in policy: A stroke of a pen changed my life, and it didn’t take raucous debates in Parliament or any public political grandstanding. It just took a pen, and someone with common sense driving it. Sometimes, change is really simple to get done, and big in the difference it makes.

Unheeded voices

In the video above, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has guaranteed that he won’t be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, something he has repeatedly insisted he’s not interested in, anyway. Christie's sin was not marching in lock step with the party's extremist core.

Christie opposes marriage equality like most Republican politicians, but he supports civil unions, which will raise the hackles of party activists who oppose both. But he also says that while his church says homosexuality is a sin, he personally believes gay people are born that way, and so, are not sinful simply for being gay. In Republican eyes, that makes him a heretic both religiously and politically. These positions will also be “deal breakers” for the Republican activists who were pressuring him to run, including Iowa activists who are hell-bent, as it were, on repealing marriage equality in that state and outlawing any recognition of same-sex relationships, like the civil unions Christie supports.

At the bottom of this post is another video, of former Republican Utah Governor John Huntsman talking about his support for civil unions (tip o’ the hat to Roger Green for supplying the link in an earlier comment). Huntsman says he’ll announce his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on June 21. He already has one strike against him, in party activists’ eyes, because he’s a Mormon; his support for civil unions makes him even less likely to win the nomination.

Neither man is a moderate—they’re still conservative in an absolute sense, with the difference being mainly degree, emphasis and the issues they focus on. However, they’re part of a growing trend among Republican politicians who are turning their back on the “social issues” that party activists who control the party’s machinery are so loud and aggressive about.

This is sensible: The general voting public (including, it should be noted, ordinary Republican voters), don’t share the rigid ideology of the party activists and leaders. An overwhelming majority of Americans support at least civil unions for same-sex couples, and polls now show a clear majority support marriage equality. Those same polls show that support is growing even among Republican voters.

This all means that the Republican Party is falling farther and farther behind the general public—and their own voters—as they pander to a small, but extremely loud minority in their party. Of course, Republican voters are more conservative than Democrats or most independents, but the evidence shows that they’re not always as conservative about every issue as their leaders pretend.

All of which means that both Christie and Huntsman are arguably closer to the views of true Republican (and many independent) voters than are the loud, aggressive party activists or the current bunch of candidates pandering to them. The problem for both these men, and other Republicans like them, is that the machinery of the party is firmly in the hands of those hard-right activists, who are also far more likely to vote in Republican primaries than are the less rigidly ideological majority of Republican voters.

Still, any Republican who wants to actually be elected president, and not merely win the nomination and bragging rights, needs to connect with independents and more moderate Republicans; pandering to the frothing right is a recipe for electoral defeat. Personally, I think both Christie and Huntsman know that. I just don’t think the party apparatus is yet willing to move with the times.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kevin Hague speaks on combating bullying

In this video, from the General Debate in Parliament today, Green MP Kevin Hague, who is openly gay, speaks on the subject of bullying of GLBT youth. He challenges Prime Minister John Key to do more. It's also actually one of the few times in the current Parliament that an MP has addressed GLBT issues.

These videos are a relatively new thing (which is why I haven’t made more use of them). They’re posted to the InTheHouse YouTube Channel and also to the InTheHouse website of the New Zealand Parliament. Question Time is also released as an audio podcast through Radio New Zealand. Parliament Today, a summary of the day’s activities, is also available (I subscribe to both).

The New Zealand Government has been a leader in making official information available online, and all these video and audio files are great resources for anyone interested in following the NZ Parliament. Having easy access to original source material has been especially useful to me as a blogger and podcaster. Sometimes government does get it right.

Jon Stewart yawns about NZ politics

Jon Stewart began his latest show with a short bit about New Zealand politics as the result of a pre-show conversation with a Kiwi woman, Stuff reported. I thought it was funny, although I’m generally a fan, anyway.

I think there are three conclusions we can draw about this: First, many people will be thrilled about it, as they are any time a media celebrity mentions New Zealand. Second, some people will be appalled (those people, I think, will be few). Third, the vast majority will take no notice whatsoever. Oh, and four, people who comment on newspaper websites are, far too often, douchebags.

But I think the final word on this has to go to Twitter friend @CNell_NZ who Tweeted: “It's okay, Jon, you can make fun of Kiwi politics if you like. It's less soul-crushing than American politics, after all.” True, very true.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seven Republicans put America to sleep

I only watched bits and pieces of the “debate” among Republicans because I couldn’t care less what those morons have to say: Not one of them has a snowball’s chance of getting my vote. Nevertheless, it is kind of validating to see they couldn’t even rise to my already low opinion of them.

The video above from ThinkProgress shows the question on same-sex marriage. Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all want a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage (which, by definition, makes them bigots). Herman Cain and Ron Paul want it left to the states, while Paul goes farther saying government should get out of the marriage business. As he would [Update: Far right gasbag Ann Coulter said Paul was being a "coward" taking that stand because "marriage has consequences"). Only Cain and Romney avoided speechifying.

The Class Clown Award goes, predictably, to Michele Bachmann, who wants it both ways. Admitting she’s a “tenther”, she says she wouldn’t tell the states what to do on marriage—but then says she’s in favour of a constitutional amendment to do exactly that by banning same-sex marriage. A tenth the intelligence, indeed. Today she also officially announced her candidacy for Head Clown US President.

This is a litmus test issue for me: I will not vote for or support through action or inaction any candidate who calls for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Fortunately for me, I’m not aware of a single Democratic politician who supports that brain-dead, hate-filled proposal. Thanks to this debate, we know which of the announced Republican candidates do. It’s important to note, however, that their answers to this question don’t mean that Cain and Paul aren’t bigots, just that this issue isn’t evidence either way for them.

Raw video of the 6.0 aftershock

In this video from the New Zealand Herald, Cameraman Jo Morgan happened to be filming an interview when yesterday’s 6.0 aftershock hit. The speed with which the liquefaction spreads was one of the things that most stuck me about the video.

Update: Yesterday's biggest quakes have been upgraded to 5.6 and 6.3.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nature’s fury

Christchurch just can’t catch a break. After thousands of earthquake aftershocks over the past several months, today they copped a swarm, including two major shocks, a 5.5 at 1pm and a 6.0 at 2:20pm. There were also a dozen smaller quakes between that 1pm jolt and the time I’m writing this, around 5½ hours later:
  • 1pm: Magnitude 5.5 quake, 10km E of Christchurch, at a depth of 11km.
  • 1:08pm: Magnitude 4.4 quake, 10km SE of Christchurch, at a depth of 11km.
  • 1:28pm: Magnitude 3.4 quake, 10km SE of Christchurch, at a depth of 9km.
  • 2:20pm: Magnitude 6 quake, 10km SE of Christchurch, at a depth of 9km.
  • 2:40pm: Magnitude 4.9 quake, 10km E of Christchurch, at a depth of 10km.
  • 2:50pm: Magnitude 3.4 quake, 10km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 6km.
  • 3:08pm: Magnitude 3.7 quake, 20km E of Christchurch, at depth of 8km.
  • 3:33pm: Magnitude 3.5, 20 km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 5km.
  • 4:10pm: Magnitude 3.5, 20 km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 8km.
  • 4:23pm: Magnitude 3.5, 10 km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 8km.
  • 4:27pm: Magnitude 3.5, 10 km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 8km.
  • 4:40pm: Magnitude 3.6 quake, 20km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 6km.
  • 4:56pm: Magnitude 3.5 quake, 10km S of Christchurch, at depth of 5km.
  • 6:11pm: Magnitude 3.3 quake, 20km SE of Christchurch, at depth of 9km.
The two big jolts were felt far away, but we don’t feel them in Auckland. Part of the reason for that is the fact we’re on a different tectonic plate than the Canterbury region is: They’re on the Pacific Plate and we’re on the Australian Plate. We’re also a very long way away.

By the time this is actually posted, there will probably be even more aftershocks. There's a widget on the right side of my blog which lists recent earthquakes in New Zealand. It links through to the GeoNet site, where more details about the earthquakes can be found.

As if that weren’t enough, air travel in this part of the world has been disrupted by the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in Chile on June 4. The ash shot up some 15,000 metres, high enough that weather didn’t cause it to break up. In about a week, the ash had crossed the South Atlantic, South Africa, the Indian Ocean, Tasmania and reached New Zealand. This week, it’ll get back to Chile again.

It’s created fiery red sunsets, especially in the South Island, and was apparently responsible for a giant ring around the moon in the skies over Auckland last night. Qantas and its subsidiary, Jetstar, cancelled flights, but Air New Zealand and other airlines didn’t, flying below the ash cloud and altering flight paths to avoid it. Thousands of people have had their travel plans disrupted, and it could be quite some time before things return completely to normal.

Sadly, nature isn’t done yet.

The (self) righteous onslaught

You can just tell it’s an election year: Hard on the heals of the controversial conference by ultra-fundamentalist Destiny “church”, comes word of another conference among the anti-gay religious hard right. Sadly, politicians will debase themselves there, too.

The annual Forum on the “Family” will be held on July 8, and according to their promotional flier*, Bob McCoskrie, of the rabidly anti-gay group “Family” First, will “interview” Prime Minister John Key and Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff to:
“…find out their views on a number of family [sic] policies as well as their personal principles and values which drive their desire to lead the country…
“And where do they stand personally on the difficult issues of abortion, child abuse, euthanasia, marriage, the role of parents, media standards, the role of welfare, parental choice in education, and many others.”
McCoskrie’s group is far right “Christian” political group, probably most famous for pushing the pro-smacking vanity referendum a couple years back. His group opposes legal recognition of any kind for same sex couples, opposed the Civil Unions Act and occasionally still mocks it, especially by laughing about how few couples take advantage of the law in any given year, as if the numbers had anything whatsoever to do with anything.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekend Diversion: erasure

Some people will be appalled by this, others will cheer: If I had to pick a favourite pop group, it would be erasure. The duo of Vince Clarke with Andy Bell on vocals has given me much music that I connect with. In fact, I couldn’t narrow down the videos to only one, so I chose three.

Andy Bell was recruited by Vince Clarke after the end of Clarke’s former group Yazoo (Yaz in the United States), with vocals by Alison Moyet. At the time, many Yazoo fans (which included me) commented how much Bell sounded like Moyet. And yet, he didn’t (especially as erasure went on to have 24 consecutive top 20 hits in the UK between 1986 and 1997). To date, they’ve sold over 20 million albums worldwide. It didn't hurt my appreciation that I quite fancied Bell back then.

Bell is openly gay and HIV-positive. I admire his openness about both in an industry—and society—that doesn’t encourage openness about either. Late last year, the duo released a remix of their hit “A Little Respect” as a fundraiser for the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the True Colors Fund. The original was from their album The Innocents (1988) and reached number 4 on the US Hot 100 chart and number 2 on the US dance chart (and a peak of 24 in New Zealand).

The first video, at the top of this post, is “Sometimes”, one of my favourite erasure tracks. It’s from the album The Circus (1987) and reached number 4 on the US dance charts, and number 15 on the NZ pop charts. I remember watching the video for the song at Sidetrack in Chicago.

Next up is one of their bigger US hits, “Always” from their CD, I say I say I say (1994). It reached number 20 on the Hot 100 and number 4 on the “Top 40 Mainstream Chart”, whatever that is. I also saw this video in Sidetrack, and I have to admit that when I first saw it, I was disappointed: Andy Bell dances and seems to sing to a woman. In context, however, it’s not a straight affectation as I thought at the time. This was the last erasure CD I bought before moving to New Zealand, where Nigel already had the extended version of “I Love Saturdays”.

The final video is “Blue Savannah”, from the CD Wild! (1989). I’ve always thought of this as an album cut, rather than a single (and, in fact, it wasn’t one of their higher charting singles). However, the song took on a different meaning for me when I moved to New Zealand and part of the chorus became particularly important to me: “My home is where the heart is/Sweet to surrender to you only/I send my love to you”. Anyone who listened to my podcast in the early days will know what I mean.

Those are three erasure singles, all of which I liked (and still do). One day I may do another post like this (there are a lot more erasure songs, after all…), but there are other gay artists I like and want to profile this month—though at this point I have no idea who I’ll feature next week!

Coffee or tea?

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, I found what I thought of as a nation of tea drinkers, which, if we’re honest, was probably not the best fit for my American-reared tastebuds. However, the demand for coffee was said to be increasing dramatically, even though none of the international chains were here yet (a New Zealand chain, Columbus Coffee, opened its first location that year; by my count, they have 28 now). But how much of the perception that New Zealand is turning into a coffee-drinking nation is accurate?

The chart at the top of this post compares per capita consumption of tea and coffee in 2008 (the most recent figures available) among the countries I usually write about. In 1995, New Zealanders consumed 2.3 kilograms of coffee per person, as compared to 3.7 kgs in 2008, a roughly 60% increase in those 13 years. In 1975 (the earliest figures I have), consumption was only 1.6 kgs per person. So, there was an increase of more than 225% between 1975 and 2008. Globally, consumption per capita was more or less stable over that same period, averaging out at about a kilogram per person.

Despite New Zealand’s increase in consumption, the country’s ranked only 36th in the world for its annual coffee consumption per capita, but that’s well ahead of Australia, which is ranked 45th and the United Kingdom, which is 47th. Not surprisingly, consumption in the US beats all three countries: The US is ranked 27th in the world. However, Canada beats us all, ranked 11th in the world. Number one is Finland, at a whopping 12kg per person.

Tea” refers to any drink made from cultivars or sub-species of Camellia sinensis. That includes what we normally think of as tea, and various varieties, such as black tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong, and white tea, as well as fermented tea. However, “herbal teas” don’t usually contain any Camellia sinensis, and so, they aren’t actually tea, but an herbal infusion or tisane.

Apparently, after water, tea is the world’s most popular drink [Alan Macfarlane; Iris Macfarlane (2004). The Empire of Tea. The Overlook Press. p. 32. ISBN 1-58567-493-1]. The stereotype is that it’s popular in Britain and countries that made up the former British Empire, but the world’s number one consumer is Turkey at 2.1 kgs per person consumed, just edging out the UK and Ireland at 2.0 kgs per capita in each country. New Zealand is ranked seventh, Australia is tenth-equal, the United States in tied for twenty-third with Canada, among others.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The nature of homophobia

Long-held common-sense folk wisdom says that the most homophobic people are that way in an effort to cover-up and overcompensate for their own same-sex attractions. It’s often said in the GLBT community that in any pack of teens or young men beating up a gay man, at least one of the attackers will be secretly gay. There’s a growing body of scientific evidence backing that up.

The video above is an excerpt from a longer documentary talking about the nature of homophobia, based on the Middle Sex Experiment. While the longer version seems to have gone from YouTube, this excerpt gives the gist of what the larger study found, and how the research was conducted. The study found that homophobic men were aroused by gay male pornography, but adamantly denied that fact.

A new study has found the same thing: “Homophobic men were the most sexually aroused by gay male sex acts.” This is a classic Freudian situation: Homophobic men are most negative toward that which they most want.

This makes obvious sense: A truly heterosexual man wouldn’t be the least bit threatened by gay men and it’s almost certain that they don’t even think about gay men having sex, so they simply don’t get angry or “repulsed” that it happens. Men who are secure in their own sexuality don’t really care about the sexuality of others, whether similar or different.

Friday, June 10, 2011

‘Loving’ and the Fight for Marriage Equality

“Someday, ALL Americans will be equal under the law”. How soon that day arrives depends on each and every one of us. Until everyone is free to marry the person they love, none of us is free. If you don’t support full marriage equality, you don’t support freedom and equality. It’s as simple as that.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Shorn yesterday

Yesterday, I took Jake (left) and Sunny (right) to be groomed. It’s the first time Jake’s been clipped by a groomer (we always did it), and may also be the first time for Sunny, too. Their coats had both become matted as their winter fur came in, but Sunny’s was especially bad because she never got her spring trim. She looked a bit like a sheep.

So I dropped them off and, because it was the first time and all, I went and waited at a café nearby so if there was an issue and I was needed, I could get there quickly. Everything was fine, of course.

When I picked them up after their trim, I took one look at Sunny and said, “who are you?” because she looked so different, and much smaller. But she and Jake also look more like a “set” of sorts, which is nice.

Neither dog’s cold, despite the trimmed fur, which is probably because the house is warm, thanks to the central heating. They also seemed not to really notice the change, though I think Jake was enjoying being able to see better.

Today, I gave all the furbabies their regular flea treatments, a little bit late because I knew the dogs were being groomed. Sunny didn’t care, Bella was a little annoyed and Jake was angry with me. He didn’t bite me or anything, but he sort of sulked in a grumpy kind of way the rest of the day. He was fine by evening.

I took the photo above around lunchtime today. I like the way they both have a fashion model’s don’t-look-at-the-camera look. Plus, they look adorable.

Wowser explosion

“Wowser” is a great word, one of the best I learned when I moved to New Zealand. It basically means a person who criticises people for their supposed moral lapses, holding themselves up as morally superior. It has come to mean people who self-righteously promote their own version of morality or propriety—even if they have no right to do it because of their own failings.

We’ve had an explosion of wowserism in recent months as politicians are alleged to have committed supposed moral lapses. Sometimes criminality is alleged and, when crimes have been committed, public disapproval is to be expected.

But when a politician does something that’s merely icky (in our opinion), we should shut up.

The best case of this is the one currently swirling in America’s shallow mainstream newsmedia over Democratic US Rep Anthony Weiner sending photos to women. They’ve been called “inappropriate”, “lewd”, “explicit” and even “obscene”, although what I’ve seen so far doesn’t make my definition for any of those terms. I personally see nothing wrong with his having sent the photos, which do not appear to have been sent to unwilling recipients.

Rep. Weiner isn’t “sick” doesn’t have “a problem”, nor should it be assumed that he drinks too much or uses drugs, as some American journalists have actually suggested. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Rep. Weiner is “guilty of” or “suffering from” anything other than being male, one who, like so many other males, occasionally thinks with the wrong head.

Dan Savage has had the best commentary so far. When he live-blogged Weiner’s press conference, Savage wrote:
“Do reporters know what men are like? (And lots of women too?) This desire to pathologize behavior that isn't sick—that is, indeed, very common and human and completely and instantly understandable—is itself pathological. Weiner does not have a problem. He has a computer. The whole world has Weiner's problem: same old horniness, brand new box.”

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Politicians and destiny

This weekend the ultra-fundamentalist Destiny Church held their annual conference in Auckland. Coinciding with the campaign for a byelection in the Maori Electorate of Te Tai Tokerau, the church’s leader, TV preacher Brian Tamaki, saw an opportunity to position his church as a force in Maori politics. This is troubling for a lot of reasons.

Tamaki’s brand of fervently rightwing Christianity is toxic. In 2004, Tamaki predicted his church would be "ruling the nation" within five years; it didn’t happen, of course. He created a political party for the 2005 elections. It failed dismally. He re-branded his party for the 2008 election and it performed even worse. The party was de-registered last year.

Tamaki condemned women in government leadership positions, saying it’s “the work of the devil”. He’s also notoriously and rabidly anti-gay, having led blackshirted followers down Auckland’s Queen Street shouting “enough is enough” as they gave stiff armed salutes reminiscent of the Nazis, all to try and stop New Zealand’s Civil Unions law. He led another rally against the law outside Parliament. He lost that battle, too.

The New Zealand Herald examined Tamaki’s church recently and reported that it’s become more and more cult-like in recent years.

The main problem with politicians attending this event is that they went to Destiny’s conference—this wasn’t a “political forum” as the church called it—it was heavy on the religion, including Tamaki “laying hands” on the politicians to bless them. By attending, the MPs were implicitly lending their support and approval to Destiny and its entire agenda.

And to what end? Destiny members might, ideologically, have something in common with National and Act, as well as the socially conservative parts of the Maori Party, but what do the other parties have to gain by dancing with Brian? Labour, in particular, will never get the 0.5% of the vote they represent and should not have been there (the Green Party’s own annual conference was the same weekend, and they were not at Destiny’s services).

Tamaki’s misogyny and homophobia are anathema to the Labour Party’s liberal base. So for Shane Jones—once touted as a potential leader of the Labour Party—to pander so obviously to Destiny and to stroke Tamaki’s ego is hugely worrying to party supporters. Jones said, “not everyone in Labour is hostile to God”, implying that Labour supporters who can’t stomach Destiny are automatically anti-God when, in fact, many of those people would be very pro-God, indeed.

However, it’s also insulting and pretty disgusting for him to insinuate that atheists and agnostics are “hostile to god” when they’re hostile only to Tamaki; contrary to Brian’s delusions, he’s not really a god. Jones’ remarks also shot down one of the long-held beliefs of the party, namely, that its ideology is “applied Christianity.” Tamaki and his weird, cultish church are not the only Christians, Shane.

No party has anything to gain by pandering to Destiny, and they all have something to lose. But Labour has the most to lose. They should treat Tamaki and Destiny as the poison that they are.

To learn more:

For some Maori perspectives on these events, check out the post on Maui Street, as well as commentary by Dr Leonie Pihama, the strong comments at He Hōaka and a plea that "you should listen to this nobody" at Mars 2 Earth. For information on last year’s political pandering at Destiny’s annual conference, check out the post on Kiwipolitico.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Knight and day

It’s the Queen’s Birthday holiday in New Zealand, and that means the release of the annual Queen’s Birthday Honours List in which various people get honoured, some with knighthoods. Honouring people for their achievements or good works is a good idea, but to me the heraldic titles seem anachronistic and too flawed for the modern world. Even so, I have potential solutions to reform it.

The National/Act government restored knighthoods in 2009, after the previous Labour-led government had abolished them in favour of a purely New Zealand honours system. The system National reinstated requires royal approval of top honours because they carry a heraldic title. To me, that kind of seems like asking mummy if you can go out to play.

Still, New Zealanders are said to have a kind of nostalgic feeling for knighthoods, even though it’s wholly inconsistent with the country’s otherwise egalitarian nature. Yet I can’t find any polls that show what the level of support for knighthoods actually is—how do we know that “most people” support them? Whether they do or not, there are ways to fix some of the problems.

The first problem is with who is honoured. National tends to use the honours system to reward National politicians/supporters and leaders of big business. Many of them, arguably, don’t necessarily deserve recognition ahead of others. But that’s an argument based in part on ideology; National supporters would be just as dismissive of Labour’s favouring community leaders, academics and labour leaders.

The solution to that problem is to have an honours system taken entirely out of the grimy paws of politicians: A completely non-partisan commission of esteemed New Zealanders who would seek to honour people exclusively on merit. If the political parties want to acknowledge their supporters, let them do their own party honours without sullying the national system.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Matt Alber

This is the first of my Weekend Diversions for June—Gay Pride Month. The song in this video is “End of the World” by Matt Alber, a song I really like. I think the video conveys the meaning of the song very well (videos don’t always, after all), and I especially like the pas de deux toward the end, which I think is particularly evocative.

In an interview with bearotic.com (the interview is work-safe, but I can’t vouch for the entire site), Alber said of the song:
“The biggest love of my life had fallen out of love with me because he thought I had fallen out of love with him. This was the saddest thing that had happened in my life romantically to date.”
I can see that. I can also see why the site was so effusive in its praise, calling the album this song is part of, the “Most Romantic Gay album ever”. While I haven’t heard the entire album, I do like what I’ve heard.

Matt tours around North America a lot, so the chance to see him live is good. Matt's website lists dates/locations, and also streams many of his songs, including this one.

I love the song, I love the video. I think that makes it a good lead-off for this month.

Moving in the right direction

Blogs like this are places to explore issues and ideas, as much as talk about things going on. That’s especially true for me this month: June is Gay Pride Month and this year, for no particular reason, I decided to publish a “Gay A Day” post. So, each day I’ve tried to post at least one thing relating to GLBT people—politics, culture, general politics as it relates to GLBT people, etc. (though I still post about other things, too).

So I was pleased when I saw that Roger Green asked an interesting question on his blog—not just because it was something I could take up here, but also because it’s especially relevant to my project for this month—for a couple reasons.

On his blog, Roger listed some encouraging developments in the struggle for GLBT rights, then wrote:
“So I’m feeling encouraged that, in the clichéd language of the pollsters, the country is ‘moving in the right direction’ on gay rights. What says you?”
On balance, I’m still hopeful—despite everything. I believe that the reason that the anti-gay industry has raised the volume of its vitriol, and why they’ve started saying ever more outrageous things, is precisely because they’re losing, and they know it.

Despite their best efforts to stop simple justice for GLBT people, polls show growing acceptance of gay people generally and for marriage equality specifically. In 2008 they famously got Prop 8 passed in California, and they’ve won a couple victories since. But now a clear majority of Americans favour marriage equality, and if you look more broadly at the numbers of Americans who support some sort of legal relationship for same-sex relationships, you’re at super-majority levels of support.

While the anti-gay industry knows their power and influence have already peaked, they’re still dangerous, and things could still reverse; that risk is why I continue to hammer the anti-gay industry for defaming gay people, for spreading lies and deliberate disinformation, and for their hypocrisy. Before the anti-gay industry’s last gasp, I think there will be more losses to them.

This means that for some GLBT people, things will get worse before they get better. But even in such places, victory is inevitable because the force of history is on our side, on the side of fairness and justice, and not on the side of hatred and bigotry.

So, I do think the country is moving in the right direction on gay rights (though not fast enough, of course). It’s especially appropriate that one of Roger’s posts should serve as the inspiration for me talking about this topic. As I see it, this inevitable victory is being particularly helped along by people like Roger: Straight Christians who put their commitment to justice out there for all to see, living their faith, being an example for others who have not yet spoken up. There are more people like Roger than anyone realises, far more than there are members of the anti-gay industry. That’s why I remain optimistic and why I believe we’re on the right track. Ultimately, we’ll prevail—together.

Update: Check out Roger's follow-on post on his other blog.