Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blue September

Tomorrow is the last day of September, and the last day of Blue September, a month-long public awareness campaign to get men to take their health, and cancer awareness in particular, seriously. Most of us men have a an “ignore it and it will go away” attitude. That attitude kills far too many of us far too early.

As part of Britain’s campaign, rowers from Britain’s Warwick university took part in a naked photo shoot. Eye catching though it may be, it also carries a serious message as two of the participants survived testicular cancer.

The more we men talk about men’s health issues, the less we’ll resist taking care of ourselves. Our loved ones will thank us for that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is NZ Labour finally backing marriage equality?

Yesterday, I saw a pamphlet posted on the Rainbow Labour page on Facebook. The wording caused some concern, but it was another posting further down the page that, for me, only heightened the confusion. So, I have to ask:

Is NZ Labour finally supporting marriage equality, or is it not?

One side of the flier—my favourite—is above; I think it’s pretty clear. The other side is below, and it contains this vague wording: “Modernise adoption and relationship laws in New Zealand.” Okay, adoption law we all get, but what’s this about “relationship laws”? Is that marriage equality, or are they talking about something else?

Further down the Facebook page, someone had posted a link to an article on gayexpress.co.nz [the article is no longer available]: “Labour releases rainbow policy”. The article begins, “The New Zealand Labour Party has released its rainbow policy platform for the 2011 election, which includes gay marriage and GLBT youth safety among the party’s primary concerns.”

I read that and thought, “finally!” That was until I read further in the article that among other things, Labour pledged that if it wins government it will “Review and update relationship and relationship property law…” Okay, well, what does that mean?

The article quotes Charles Chauvel as saying, “It’s our policy to open up the right to marriage so that people can make the choice. I imagine there will be some who have some difficulty with that, but it’s consistent with our commitment to equality.”

I was relieved. It appeared that Labour was finally agreeing to support marriage equality—or are they? The only place I can find any reference to this whatsoever is in that one article.

There is nothing on the Labour Party website about this commitment. The site for Rainbow Labour is currently “returning soon”. There’s also nothing on the Party’s group blog, Red Alert. There’s not even anything on Charles Chauvel’s own site [the original links for this paragraph are all inactive and have been removed].

Not surprisingly, then, there are also no mainstream news articles about this. In fact, the top things that showed up in my Google search were blog posts from earlier this year about how Labour is not supporting marriage equality.

So, I’m again left to wonder: Is New Zealand Labour supporting marriage equality or isn’t it? It shouldn’t be this hard to get a straight answer, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Three months ago I wrote about how marriage equality in New Zealand was going nowhere, in part because neither Labour nor National supported it, and that, in fact, the only party that does is the Greens. I wrote that Labour Leader Phil Goff had declared, “Labour supported civil unions, when National opposed them. Not intending to make further changes.” I should have added that, on Twitter, campaign manager Trevor Mallard said that marriage equality was not on the agenda because, basically, New Zealand wasn’t ready for it.

I haven’t been happy with Labour for three years—like a lot of Labour voters, actually. And like a lot of other disaffected Labourites, I’ve been seriously considering giving my Party Vote to the Greens this year. This debacle has again made me consider that as a viable option. I support marriage equality. The Greens support marriage equality. Labour? Who knows? [Update: in the end, I gave both my votes to Labour that year].

Deluded catching up

Those wacky bigots in the anti-gay industry have just realised that a Republican Member of the US Congress has signed on to co-sponsor the repeal of the US’ notorious “Defense [sic] of Marriage Act” (DOMA) I suppose that since the bigots live entirely in the past, they had to wait for this to be old news before they noticed.

US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami, recently became the first member of her party to co-sponsor the “Respect for Marriage Act”, which would repeal DOMA. The chief sponsor of the “Respect for Marriage Act” is US Representative Jerald Nadler (D-NY), who has also championed immigration equality for GLBT bi-national couples. The bill has 124 co-sponsors.

The bigots at the hate group National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage posted on their blog, “First Republican Jumps Ship, Supports Repeal of DOMA”, as if opposing repeal of DOMA was a requirement to be a Republican; maybe in their fantasy world it is, but in the reality-based community, things are very different.

Head bigot at the “Family” Research [sic] Council, Tony Perkins, chimed in, sneering that Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was “never a big fan of family issues,” because obviously only far rightwing nutjob Republicans marching in lock step with religious extremists can ever be “pro-family”. Perkins said she’s “joined the dark side”. Yeah, well, Perkins knows a thing or two about the dark side, having donated to the KKK and supported white supremacist groups.

Of course, as usual, Tony also flat out lies. He said that the goal of the Respect for Marriage Act is to “overturn the state laws and 42 state constitutional amendments by redefining [sic] marriage at the federal level.” That’s bullshit, as he well knows. The legislation would simply repeal DOMA (which Tony always likes to call “bi-partisan” as if that somehow makes it legitimate and untouchable). As such, it deals only with federal law and the recognition of legal same-sex marriages by the federal government. Those state laws and amendments can only be overturned by the US Supreme Court.

These loud protestations from the frothing radical right demonstrates that we can expect to see more mainstream-leaning Republicans supporting not just repeal of DOMA, but also full marriage quality. It is inevitable.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kindle arrives

The Kindle is available in New Zealand for the first time. Sure, it could be ordered from Amazon, and the Kindle software offers connection to Amazon’s e-books for Kindle, but until now there was no local seller for the device itself.

On August 31, Dick Smith started selling them and, according to Stuff, it’s already a “best seller”, with 2000 units sold and a restock of 4000. That may not sound like much, but sales in those numbers would make a book a best seller, and these devices have the potential for holding hundreds of books (they claim up to 3500).

Dick Smith is selling the 3G version for $289 ($US227) and the wifi-only version for $209 ($US164). By contrast, Amazon's site offers the 3G version for $240 (US$189) and the wifi-only version for $178 (US$139). It’s ironic that Amazon’s price should be lower, since the high price of printed books in New Zealand is one of the main attractions of e-books.

However, shipping charges are on top of Amazon’s prices, though unlikely to make up the difference. The advantage of buying locally is that there’s easy recourse if the device is faulty.

I actually looked at a Kindle recently, the first time I’ve seen one. They’re smaller than I’d imagined, but also much lighter than my iPad. I thought that the screen was easy to read, and I can see how it would be more readable in sunlight. However, I found the device a little, um, basic. I realise the cheaper materials are part of the reason it’s dramatically cheaper than the iPad, but it felt a little lacking in substance.

Ironically, I considered getting a Kindle as my main e-reading device precisely because of these “drawbacks”: The iPad is very heavy for reading over a long time, and its screen is difficult to read in bright light, meaning I’d have difficulty sitting out on the deck reading an e-book this summer.

However, I use the iPad for more than just reading. Also, I want a colour screen because I also read magazines on my iPad, not just text. It’s rumoured that the new Kindle will be more iPad-like, though I’m not sure that’s a good thing if it makes the price soar.

I haven’t ruled our getting a Kindle, but it’s not currently on my list. I love the Kindle software on my iPad, iPhone and desktop Mac, which works very well for me, and that’s really enough—for now, anyway.

Update September 29: TechCrunch reported that Amazon would announce “Kindle Fire” this week, with availability in November (and only in the US, apparently). The device will be smaller and cheaper than the iPad and will have fewer features (the Atlantic Wire has more on the features). With the Nook Colour 2 due out about the same time, this could be the start of tablet wars, though neither seems a real competitor to the iPad—yet.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Religious allies

I am a harsh critic of hard-right religious groups, but I have nothing against religion or Christianity. My fight is with those who would use their religion as a weapon to beat others into submission, the folks who wield their cross like a sword against those who have different views. But that is a political fight having nothing whatsoever to do with religion or religious belief.

In fact, there are a great many Christians who are true to the faith and who are speaking out in defence of Christian values. They are a salve against the acidic burning of the radical right religious people. I admire them for doing to.

Here are two more examples.

First, John Shore, who writes for the Huffington Post, as well as his own site, among other places. Reacting to the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer after years of anti-gay bullying, Shore wrote:
“If you’re a Christian who believes that being gay is a morally reprehensible offense against God, then you share a mindset, worldview, and moral structure with the kids who hounded Jamey Rodemeyer, literally, to death. It is your ethos, your convictions, and your theology that informed, supported, and encouraged their cruelty.”
“We Christians who believe that God created gay people as much in His own image as he did straight people are begging you to reconsider your theology — to do nothing more than be open to an alternative, fully credible, scholastically sound interpretation of one or two lines from Paul.


“How can you be unwilling to do something so simple, when you see the horrible ultimate cost of that refusal?”
I thought his piece was very well argued. The anti-gay industry has made stopping anti-bullying programmes one of their top agenda items. The biggest item, of course, is stopping marriage equality. Even here, however, there are Christian voices of reason.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Losing my REM

This week, R.E.M. announced they were “calling it a day” after 31 years. The band’s music has been playing in the background for some of the most important years of my life, so I’m sorry they’re ending.

Lead singer Michael Stipe is nearly a year younger than me, and there aren’t that many of my age-peers still performing. Stipe is usually referred to as “bisexual”, but he has frequently said he prefers the term “queer” because to him it better covers the nuances of sexuality. So because of all that, there’s a kind of kinship.

Then, too, I was also a fan of the liberal/progressive political activism of R.E.M. (of course). As a liberal, I liked having them on my side of issues and electoral campaigns—especially in the Reagan years, a time during which many performers didn’t want to rock the conservative boat.

The video above is a live version of “Losing My Religion” from the band’s seventh album, 1991’s Out of Time. The song reached number four on Billboard’s chart, making it their most successful single. It’s also always been one of my favourite R.E.M. songs.

And now, I’m losing my R.E.M. Sad.

Claiming and being are different

This should be one of the most self-evident things I’ve written on this blog, but claiming to be a victim doesn’t make it true. Lately we’ve seen the radical right religious organisations that make up the anti-gay industry step-up their claim of victimhood. They’re all lying.

This is not a new tactic, of course, and I wrote about it way back in January 2010. The central lie in their propaganda has been that they, radical right counterfeit Christians, are being victimised by gay people (aided, of course, by their evil liberal allies).

The problem for the hatemongers is that their cultural war against gay people is nearly lost, as seen by the clear majorities backing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and even full marriage equality. Their propaganda no longer works as people move forward into the future rather than wallowing in the past.

So, the bigots decided that in the face of the turning tide in public opinion, their only hope was to turn everything upside down and reframe the entire debate as one in which people who support equality are the radicals and bigots, and the real bigots are the victims. But claiming that doesn’t make it believable, let alone true.

This is why the anti-gay industry went into over-drive claiming “Christians” will be victimised by the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, as seen in the examples I posted yesterday. They present what they believe a reasonable person might “buy”, namely, that “Christians” will be “forced” to remain silent (notice the unspoken assumption that all Christians are anti-gay like them). They also claim that heterosexual soldiers will be victims of sexual harassment and assault and will be receiving HIV-tainted blood.

Normal people know that the claims of the radical right are defamatory nonsense, but what about people who have slight prejudice against gay people, or especially those who just don’t know the truth? Those are the people that the bigots are trying to win over, and they’re the reason they’re portraying themselves as victims.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

As for example

The radical right anti-gay industry has taken a subtle but noticeable unified turn in their propaganda: They exclusively portray themselves as victims. I’ll return to this topic in another post, but the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provides a quick snapshot, since they all commented in a short period of time.

So, here are some typical examples of the rightwing’s anti-gay propaganda:

From head of the SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, the “Family” Research Council, Tony Perkins, via email:
"’F’RC will continue to monitor the consequences of this reversal of 236 years of American military policy, limit the damage and demand that the Defense Department do the same. Expect to see celebrations from homosexual groups and fawning stories in the media about how 'the sky has not fallen.' That's only because there will be no press releases from the new victims of sexual harassment or assault, the soldiers exposed to HIV tainted blood, the thousands of servicemembers who choose not to reenlist rather than forfeit their freedom of speech and religion, and the untold number of citizens who choose never to join the military. It's clear this President is more interested in appeasing sexual revolutionaries than in fighting America's enemies."
That hate group’s Peter Sprigg, who says homosexuality should be made illegal, added this:
“We will have reverse discrimination… it will be those who hold traditional values and who disapprove of homosexual conduct who will be in the closet and forced to remain silent”
And Bob Maginnis, the hate group’s “senior fellow”, takes things even further by demanding the exclusion of gay people, rather than a mere reinstatement of DADT:
"They did not tell the Pentagon that homosexuals have to serve; they just said we're removing this law. So a new president could impose a new regulation or for that matter, Congress could pass a law saying 'we now prohibit the service by people that are known to be homosexual.' That's easily done. Even though it would be the right thing to do, it would take a very courageous future leader to do anything about it." [emphasis in original]
Picking up on the “change the government” theme, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's “Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission”, uses his religion for partisan political gain in addition to attacking gay people:
"I think there's a grave concern on the part of the Southern Baptist chaplains that I've talked to in all branches of the service that their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religious free exercise are going to be either extinguished or severely limited in the near future—and they're very, very, very concerned."

"I believe that if we get a Republican president, we're going to hear the senior officers in all of the branches singing a very different tune than the one they're singing now. I know they're under a tremendous amount of pressure to go along with this political experimentation with our military, which is totally uncalled for. It's just a disgrace that this is going on."

Source: http://tinyurl.com/43afr7p
And finally, an absurdly over-the-top attack on gay people by a Roman Catholic priest, Alexander Webster, in a guest column for Stars & Stripes:
"On Sept. 20, 2011, a date that will live in infamy, the U.S. armed forces were deliberately and successfully attacked by advocates of the scourge of homosexuality. The elimination of the last vestige of moral restraint on sexual perversion in the U.S. military, commonly known as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, ushers in a new Orwellian era in which the military leadership of our nation will proclaim the unnatural as natural, the unhealthy as healthy and the immoral as moral. As an Orthodox priest who still loves all of the troops I served as a chaplain for a quarter of a century, I pray that God the Holy Trinity will preserve and protect the U.S. armed forces—especially in this new Dark Age."
These people are united in their determination to victimise GLBT people, which makes their attempt to portray themselves as “victims” all the more pathetic.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Worth quoting: Elizabeth Warren

In the video above, Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for US Senator from Massachusetts, speaks a core truth and demolishes the rightwing nonsense about how the rich have no obligation to the rest of society. Short version: They absolutely do have an obligation. Her point is as true here in New Zealand as it is in the United States or Massachusetts.

Here’s a transcript (source) of what she said:
"‎There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory. … Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."
— Elizabeth Warren, speaking on her Senate campaign talking tour.

Tip o’ the hat to Jeffrey Taylor.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When freedom arrives

The video above has become an Internet sensation, and rightly so: It’s beautiful. It was made by Randy Phillips, a 21-year-old airman in the US Air Force, who filmed himself coming out to his dad. I could feel his tension, and could practically hear his heart pounding.

It’s been posted to numerous blogs, featured on the front page of Yahoo! News, and also reported by ABC News (clip below) among others. The second clip provides some context for the first video.

This, combined with the dozens of stories of gay service people coming out since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), shows what it looks like when true freedom arrives. It took far too long, but it’s here.

Some Republicans have pledged to reinstate the policy, as demanded by the counterfeit “Christians” of the anti-gay industry, representing the base of the Republican Party. With super majorities of Americans in support of the repeal of DADT, I can’t see how Republican politicians will do anything more than mouth-off without doing anything concrete.

Still, as a Republican politician was fond of saying, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Too true.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I was feeling a little flat yesterday. Pride 48 ended the day before, which meant all those months of planning and organising, especially over the past six weeks, was over. I often have a bit of a bland period when I’ve finished a big project, as if all my batteries are drained.

But Pride 48 is more than just a big project. Over three days I get to interact with a lot of friends I’ve made through podcasting, including one who was my special guest on my own show. I also get to hear a lot of different people, and all of that is a lot of fun.

My podcast is different than most of the others in the Pride 48 extravaganza in that I’m not entertainment-oriented, but mostly informational. I certainly hope that I’m at least a little entertaining, but that’s not my primary focus and most comedy in my podcast is unintentional, and at my own expense.

I know that some of my listeners don’t care for those entertainment podcasts, and some of theirs don’t care for shows like mine, but for that one weekend we can all be together and have a really good time, despite those differences. Actually, you could even say we’re united by difference.

Pride 48 is an event put on by GLBT and GLBT-friendly podcasters and listeners—who are, after all, participants, too. We are a community, sharing our voices, sharing friendship and moving relentlessly forward. I’m incredibly proud to be part of it and honoured to be included among such wonderful people.

Every successful community event, as Pride 48 is, gives a huge metaphorical middle finger to the anti-gay industry. It’s further evidence that no matter how many lies they tell, no matter how much they defame us, no matter how much they hate us and no matter how hard they work to defeat us, we’re not going away. Their resistance only makes us stronger and more determined and, because of all that, more successful.

The anti-gay industry will fail, utterly and completely. They’re on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity—everyone but them knows this. While they fight only to advance their hatred, we fight for the right to be ourselves and for our right to love.

Community successes like Pride 48 prove the truth in the phrase that the bigots on the right ought to have heard sometime: Faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

So that’s why events like Pride 48 matter so much: They prove that love is stronger than hate and that, no matter what, it will inevitably triumph. Ultimately, that’s what and Pride 48 is really all about.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Just a day

This morning I was listening to one of the live shows on Pride 48, and they mentioned something about checking a car and I suddenly remembered: My car needed a Warrant of Fitness. In fact, it expired on Saturday.

So, I set out to VTNZ for my warrant. Not surprisingly, it was decked out for the Rugby World Cup (pictured at left). I was early enough that there wasn’t anyone in front of me, so the wait was short. In fact, I barely had enough time to post that photo to Twitter when my car was done.

Or, not so done.

They told me that my right rear tyre had two nails in it, and it was completely flat. They pumped it up, but I needed to get it fixed, and so, it failed its Warrant of Fitness. Not to worry! Just get the tyre fixed, bring back the receipt that day, and they’d pass the car.

As luck would have it, the Firestone outlet near the VTNZ was open on Sunday, so I drove over there. $45 to fix the tyre, they said. “Do it,” I said. The photo below right is of my car waiting for its tyre to rejoin it.

Tyre fixed, I headed back the VTNZ, got my Warrant (or WOF, as we call it), and was on my way home. I thought to myself that I must’ve gotten the nails on the kind of alley I took to get to VTNZ, because it was fine when I left the house. And then I thought, “I wonder if tyre people spread nails there to get the people going for a WOF?” I laughed at the joke.

I got home and told Nigel, who wondered if the tyre people had spread the nails on purpose. Later that evening, my sister-in-law and our niece came round for dinner and I told them the tale of my day and car. My sister-in-law wondered if the tyre people had spread the nails on purpose.

For the record, none of us seriously thinks that’s what happened; the area I drove through is quasi-industrial, and I could have passed through a construction area where someone had carelessly left nails lying around.

Or, maybe someone had spread the nails on purpose.

And this was a big, and unexpectedly expensive, part of my day.

One of the last

Today I woke up and checked Twitter and saw a news story, as I so often do. This time it was that former US Senator from Illinois, Charles Percy, had died, aged 91. I was actually kind of sad to read that.

Percy was called a “liberal Republican” back at a time when that phrase could be used without either irony or judgement. By the time he was finally defeated in 1984, that had completely changed.

Percy first rose to prominence when he became president of Bell & Howell at age 29. He ran for Illinois governor in 1964, losing to Otto Kerner, the first Governor I can remember. Kerner was also the first of four Illinois Governors in my lifetime to be convicted of corruption; he was prosecuted by then-US Attorney, Republican James R. Thompson who as later elected to four terms as Governor; I worked on his first two campaigns, 1976 and 1978 (by 1982, I wasn’t campaigning for Republicans anymore).

Percy was a “Rockefeller Republican”, referring to the liberal Republicans of the Northeast and Midwest, epitomised my Nelson Rockefeller. This was the kind of Republican I was.

Percy ran for US Senate in 1966 and won, an upset defeat of Senator Paul Douglas. During the campaign, Percy’s daughter, Valerie, was murdered; the crime has never been solved. Percy suspended his campaign for two weeks, leading cynics to suggest that a “sympathy vote” carried Percy to victory. The crime led CBS to postpone, then cancel, airing the film Psycho.

In 1972, he comfortably won re-election against Chicago “Machine Democrat” Roman Pucinski. In 1976, he supported Gerald Ford for election as president; I did, too. In 1978, Percy was running for his third term, which was expected to be a cakewalk. A foreign policy hardliner, Alex Seith, won the Democratic nomination and suddenly Percy’s campaign was in trouble.

I was at Southern Illinois University then, and volunteered for the Jackson County Republican Party to help re-elect both Governor Jim Thompson and Senator Percy. I found that the local party wasn’t terribly interested in Thompson’s campaign (he was from Chicago), but they were pretty hostile to Percy. I’d learned by then that the party’s rightwing, poised to take over only two years later, despised “Rockefeller Republicans”. Some referred to them as “Eastern Establishment Republicans”, which was meant to be both derisive and dismissive shorthand for “liberal”.

Percy narrowly won re-election, but the party was moving more and more to the right and Percy had trouble maintaining connection to it. In 1984, Paul Simon—the liberal Democratic US Representative from Southern Illinois—defeated him. This showed how much the Republican Party had changed: 1984 was the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election, with Reagan winning all but six of Illinois’ 102 counties. Percy couldn’t leverage that for re-election: He lost with 46% of the vote to 54% for Simon; by comparison, Reagan won Illinois 56% to 43% for Walter Mondale.

I liked Percy as a Senator. He got merit selection of federal judges so they weren’t politically connected Chicago hacks anymore, and he pushed for repatriation of the Panama Canal back to Panama. If I were truly honest, however, his successor, Paul Simon, was better—indeed, he was probably the best in my lifetime.

But, once a liberal, always a liberal, right? Percy was one of the last of the liberal Republicans, and one of the last Republicans I would vote for. And that, to me, is truly sad.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Otherwise engaged

This weekend is the third annual Pride 48 extravaganza of GLBT and GLBT-friendly podcasts. The first two years, we did a 48-hour marathon of live shows streaming out over pride48.com. This year, we have around 20 shows sharing broadcast facilities and a live studio audience at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

However, there are several of us who were not able to be there, so I’m coordinating about a dozen shows broadcasting like last year, from their respective studios. My own show will be at 5pm on Sunday, September 18 (Eastern time zone in the Americas, which is 9am Monday, September 19 here in New Zealand).

Overnight (Eastern time) this year we’re re-broadcasting the live shows from earlier in the day instead of trying to find folks willing to broadcast in the middle of the night.

So far, the event has gone well, apart from one non-Vegas show that didn’t happen for some reason. That meant I had to take over the broadcasting duties until the show due to follow was able to start, which happened about 15 minutes early.

It’s a pretty big deal for me, and that’s what I’m up to this weekend.

The artwork accompanying this post was created to celebrate the Pride 48 weekend by Lauren.

Friday, September 16, 2011

El oh el

The very end of this video made me laugh out loud. Quite possibly uncharitably, but I don’t really care.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fifth blogoversary

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I began this blog—my fifth blogoversary.

On Wednesday, September 13, 2006, I published my first post: “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” Seems a lifetime ago, and yet it also seems like hardly any time has passed.

Last year I talked a bit about the origins of this blog, so I won’t go over that again, but I also mentioned the diversity of subjects I’ve written about. That hasn’t changed over the past year, of course, but I have focused a little more on a few core subject areas; look at the posts over the past 30 days or so, and you’ll probably see what I mean.

There have been times over the past year when I just couldn’t complete a post (March and April in particular). It wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with anything to say, it was that I couldn’t finish them—they just ran out of gas, so I abandoned them. It’s not unusual that over the course of a year I accumulate dozens of unpublished posts that remain in draft form, but it IS unusual for me to get as many in the first third of the year as I did this year. Still, despite a few rough patches, I’ve “caught up” and I’m actually ahead of my average of one post per day.

The important part is that I’m still at it, it’s still fun and engaging for me, and I don’t see stopping this blog any time soon. After five years, that’s a pretty good thing.

Still more gratuitous cruelty

There are two issues on which I am uncompromising: Marriage equality and immigration equality, because both issues affect me personally and both issues underscore how GLBT people in the US are second-class (at best) citizens.

One of those second-class Americans, Mike Williams, is running for a seat in the US House of Representatives from the state of Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District. He’s gay and he and his partner are a bi-national couple. Williams’ partner faces deportation at the end of September because their relationship cannot be recognised for immigration purposes due to the infamous “Defense” of Marriage Act. This is yet another example of the US’ gratuitous cruelty toward gay bi-national couples.

In this video, Williams talks with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts about that situation. He also explains how he and his partner have not married in Connecticut, one of a handful of states with marriage equality, because to do so would endanger his partner’s chances of staying in the US. Actually, if he’d said they were simply engaged, rather than close to it, that statement would be used against them by US immigration authorities. Another layer of gratuitous cruelty.

I reiterate, as I so often do, that many countries in the world have moved well past this and have full immigration equality, whether or not they have marriage equality. For example, Canada has both, New Zealand has immigration equality and marriage-like civil unions and Australia has only immigration equality. The issues don’t have to be linked or fixed at the same time.

However, the US steadfastly refuses to move forward on either issue. Republicans and conservatives generally (particularly religious extremists) have been fighting hard to prevent either in the US, and they win despite the fact that majority of Americans don’t agree with the rightwingers on these issues.

Meanwhile, the gratuitous cruelty continues, and so will my highlighting of it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Anniversary of the beginning

Over the years, I’ve sometimes forgotten about a day that was very important in my life: On September 12, 1995 I entered New Zealand as a tourist and the rest became my story.

That date mattered because the New Zealand Immigration Service (as it was called then) counted it as the starting point when they calculated the total time I’d been in New Zealand, and that was important when I applied for residency. Still, I often forgot about it because Nigel and I have always focused on November 2, 1995, the date I arrived in New Zealand to begin my new life, and, anyway, after I became a permanent resident after a policy change, the earlier date seemed even less important.

However, the bigger reason that I seldom remember is because of the events of ten years ago today: This date in the US is September 11, and those 2001 events were obviously a much bigger deal than what turned out to be the first (and least significant) of the milestone dates in my life in New Zealand.

A sidebar to this: I actually set foot on New Zealand soil about a week earlier. I was on my way to Melbourne for the first part of my tourist trip and spent a couple hours in Auckland International Airport as they serviced the plane. The airport concourse I was in was wide open and rather nice; after 9/11, they built a glass hallway—glass walls and ceiling—to separate travellers who were departing, arriving or transiting. The concourse wasn’t designed for that, of course, and was basically ruined by the security-mandated changes.

At any rate, it’s worth noting this date’s importance in my life, but it’s also worth noting that I only began to remember the date after I started this blog. And that relates to another anniversary on another day, a topic for another day.

Remembering that day

A lot’s been written and said about the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, ranging from the crass to the wonderful. Good or bad, it’s been almost impossible to avoid it completely, even on the other side of the world.

I don’t have any commentary to add, so instead I’ll mention a few things from my experience of that day and its aftermath, and also a couple things from NZ that I think are worth a look.

But first, the start of my journal entry for that day:
“It was one of those ‘where were you when you heard’ moments. Our alarm clock went off, as it does every morning, and the same familiar announcer began reading the morning news. ‘In the worst terrorist attack the world has ever seen,’ he began, ‘both towers of New York's World Trade Center have been destroyed. Thousands are thought to have died.’”
The rest of my entry was about my day, which was, to be honest, not very different from many other people. However, one thing I haven’t mentioned before is how the events of that day made me downplay being American.

Friday, September 09, 2011

That rugby thing

I have to admit upfront that I’m not especially interested in sport. I might take an interest in a particular game or series, but, ultimately, it’s just not my thing.

So I was a bit surprised to find myself feeling excited about the start of the Rugby World Cup, especially because it came out of nowhere. I was pretty blasé up until yesterday: The news video of preparations pushed me over the edge into actual excitement.

I’d heard stories about the tourists in Auckland, but I never saw any of them, so it wasn’t real. But seeing the hard work of ordinary Kiwis, well, that did the trick.

Tonight I watched the opening ceremonies, which I thought were awesome. After that, we watched New Zealand beat Tonga 41-10, but that was a kind of icing on the cake after those opening ceremonies.

Of course I cheer for the All Blacks, who I fervently hope will win the World Cup. But between now and then I’ll watch the USA Eagles take on Ireland on Sunday in New Plymouth (6pm NZ, which is 2AM Eastern on Sunday in the Americas). In that match I’m of course cheering for the USA.

I’m not the only binational who cheers for more than one team, but I’m lucky in that there’s no way the USA will reach the finals, so I’ll never have to choose sides. Mostly, I think it’s interesting that I care at all. I’m not especially interested in sport, after all.

Selling the unsellable

The video above is a segment called “The Pitch” from the ABC (Australia) programme, The Gruen Transfer, hosted by Wil Anderson. In “The Pitch” challenge, two advertising agencies are pitted against each other to create a fake ad “selling the unsellable”. A panel of ad industry experts evaluates the efforts. Previous examples have included selling the idea of invading New Zealand, so clearly the subject matters aren’t serious, just the effort.

In this video, the challenge was a campaign to ban all religion. Anderson said in the clip, "for the first time in four seasons of the Gruen, we had ad agencies decline to take a shot at” the challenge. That alone says a lot about the imagined power of religion.

I’ve seen people commenting on the video and saying how real commercials along the lines of these competition efforts would “never play in America.” They’re probably right. While mainstream Christians, for example, will often tolerate challenges to their religious beliefs, the rightwing cannot, and ad agencies and media conglomerates alike are terrified of their reaction.

It's interesting that so many of us anticipate a backlash from religionists, reactions with actual power to do something, and adjust our own behaviours to accommodate a largely imaginary (or, at least, exaggerated) threat. I think that many of us pull back in politics, too, out of fear of what the religionists will do.

However, most of their power is imaginary—polls in the US and other Western democracies indicate that the mainstream is not made up of radical religionists who are a small, even tiny, minority. To succeed, radicals rely on us all to believe they have power, even when they don’t, and that belief accomplishes almost as much for them as if they actually had power.

It seems to me we need to stop treating the radicals as if they have actual power, and instead help everyone else see that these would-be emperors have no clothes. The real challenge, then, isn’t to make an effective—but fake—TV ad, but instead to stop coddling the most radical among us.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rory’s story

The video above has been making the Internet rounds today, and it’s not hard to see why: It’s extremely well done. Created by MarriagEquality, an initiative to try and bring about civil marriage in Ireland, the video clearly demonstrates how that country’s limited form of “civil partnerships”, a separate institution unequal to marriage, don’t give gay and lesbian people the same rights that married heterosexual couples receive automatically. This is a common problem in many places.

Here in New Zealand, things are slightly different; hospitals tend to take a somewhat broader view of family, however, marriage equality by itself will not fix the problems outlined in this video. In New Zealand, a gay person who is single may adopt, but a gay couple cannot. In most cases this affects a same-sex partner not being able to adopt the biological child of the other partner, meaning that—as in this video—they’re not “real” family.

New Zealand politicians sometimes make the right noises about fixing this, and even John Key, leader of the conservative National Party, has expressed support for change. But nothing has changed.

So, while New Zealand’s civil unions provide many of the protections that Ireland’s weak “civil partnerships” do not, our antique adoption laws would make the scenario depicted in the video possible here.

This is the twenty-first century: These battles should be over by now. Will the future ever arrive?

Hate group ad campaign

According to Joe.My.God., the “Family” Research Council, an SPLC-certified hate group, whose leader once gave $82,000 to the Ku Klux Klan, has launched an anti-marriage equality radio ad campaign in North Carolina, which will consider (and probably approve) a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.

The ad says:
"Marriage is at risk in our state. Our laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman could be overturned. Marriage between one man and one woman benefits families in society so we must preserve the marriage laws in our state Constitution. On September 12, the North Carolina Legislature will vote on putting a marriage amendment to a vote of the people. Powerful voices in our state capitol are threatening your right to vote on marriage. Take a stand for marriage. Call [your representative] and ask [them] to vote yes to the marriage amendment. It’s not about party, it’s about marriage. And on September 12, join us for a rally supporting marriage at11 a.m. in front of the legislative building in Raleigh. Bring a sign and take a stand for marriage."
The hubris of the anti-gay industry never ceases to amaze. They present purely religious arguments as if they’re secular, pretend to be rational and they appeal to prejudice and hatred—and they get away with it: Plenty of people will nevertheless fall for their con job. Again.

And the culture wars continue.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Chris Carter’s Valedictory Statement

In the video above, Chris Carter, New Zealand’s first openly gay Member of Parliament and, later, Cabinet Minister, delivers his Valedictory Statement to the House yesterday as he prepares to leave to take up a United Nations post in Kabul (not a place I’d choose to go…).

Such speeches are all about the Member who is leaving, their chance to sort of wrap their Parliamentary career in a pretty bow. There’s usually a fair amount of self-congratulation because that’s the nature of the beast.

Carter became extremely unpopular among Labour supporters when he was revealed to be plotting to topple Phil Goff as party leader. This was after Goff defended Carter amid heated criticism over Carter allegedly having engaged in “lavish” spending while he was a minister. He was expelled from the Labour caucus in Parliament and has served as an officially independent MP for about a year.

Perhaps because of that, I saw several progressive types mocking Carter on Twitter while he was making his speech (these people actually watch Parliament TV; I’m not the only one who does). I wasn’t watching the speech and only heard and saw it today. I now think they were being grossly unfair.

I can overlook the self-congratulations since all the ones I’ve heard have done the same thing. That’s a non-issue. But whatever disrepute he brought on himself toward the end of his career, it is still true that he was New Zealand’s first openly gay MP, and that’s significant.

Carter was elected in 1993, but didn’t talk about being gay until his maiden speech after that election. He lost the 1996 election, but then won election again in 1999 and has held the seat of Te Atatu ever since, a total of 15 years. His election and his having been a cabinet minister was especially important for the symbolism. Not even his fall from grace changes that.

So, I appreciate Chris Carter and the work he did. He was clearly not perfect; toward the end of his career he was very imperfect, indeed. But he helped change New Zealand for the better. It is now no big deal that there are openly gay Members of Parliament or openly gay cabinet ministers. People can actually imagine there being a gay prime minister some day, and not in the distant future.

That, in itself, is not a bad legacy.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Christian preacher I respect

Today is Sunday, the day in which Christians attend church services. I haven’t been in a church for anything other than weddings or funerals (or tourism…) in probably more than 20 years. That’s not going to change.

Because I’m so critical of rightwing Christians who I consider to be, to use their own terminology, “counterfeit Christians”, one could get the impression that I’m against all religious people. I’m not. While I have no personal use for organised religion, I’m well aware that there are people for whom it is very important. I respect that, just as I expect them to respect the fact that I don’t need organised religion.

While there have been times I’ve tried to make these same basic points in the past, I’m not sure that I’ve talked about any clergy person I feel positively about. Well, I think a Sunday is the perfect day to change that.

In the video above, Don Lemon talks with Jay Bakker, the son of televangelists Jim Bakker & Tammy Faye Bakker Messner (here's my post from when Tammy Faye died). I hadn’t heard of him until a few months ago, when someone re-Tweeted something he said. I went to the website of his church, Revolution Church, and downloaded what was at the time his most recent sermon. I liked it—a lot, actually. While I didn’t relate to it personally, I was glad to hear him saying the sorts of things I said when I was still a Christian. He does that in this video, too.

I have no patience whatsoever with religious fundamentalism of any kind. As I’ve said many times, I consider it the greatest threat to freedom, liberty and democracy the world has ever seen. Religious fundamentalists—Christian especially—have drawn me into battle as they try and force an overtly rightwing political agenda on everyone, abandoning the very teachings of their religion’s founder.

Jay Bakker is different: He’s the kind of Christian preacher I can respect. He believes that his god is loving and accepting, rather than judgemental. His ministry is inclusive of gay people, and he supports marriage equality. He emphasises grace over rigid authoritarian dogma. This basically describes what my own theology was when I was still Christian.

If there were more preachers like Jay Bakker, I have no doubt the culture wars would be over. As I said on the blog where I first saw the video, Bakker gets Christianity, and he’s one of the few even remotely prominent preachers I can think of who does (obviously, plenty of church pastors get it, too, though no fundamentalist preacher I’ve ever heard of does).

Oh well, at least we know there’s one.

One year later

One year ago today, an earthquake struck Christchurch in the small hours of the night. I knew nothing about it at first, and couldn’t figure out why my social media pals were expressing concern about me. I wrote about all that back then.

Of course it turned out that the September quake was a foreshock to the main event, the deadly quake in February of this year. The financial bad news keeps getting worse, both for the country (double the budget deficit originally predicted) and for the survivors (and improvements they made to their homes after 2007 won’t be compensated unless it increased the size of the house, meaning losses of tens of thousands of dollars for some people).

And then there’s the human loss from February, a pain still close to the surface for those who lost loved ones. It will be years before those people—and, indeed, Christchurch and the entire nation—fully recover.

Still, the first anniversary of an event is a turning point for many people, the point at which one starts to move on. It would be easier for the people of the Christchurch region to move on if they weren’t enduring thousands of aftershocks, even today. That, too, will subside some day, hopefully soon.

One year ago today, the whole series of events that have become central to New Zealand began. I think it’s important that we as a nation take time to remember, even as those of us who can try to move on.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Touring New Zealand by phone

I was checking Twitter today, and I saw a Tweet from nzhistory.net about a new, free iPhone app, Roadside Stories, from the Ministry for Culture and Hertiage.

Sounded interesting, so I followed the link to the site where I found they described it as:
“…a series of audio guides that follow major road trips in New Zealand. The stories cover the places you’ll pass along the way – their people, their history, their cultural and natural significance.”
I was intrigued by now, and then red of the app itself:
“The Roadside Stories app contains 11 tours of New Zealand, featuring over 100 stops, each with a four-minute audio file and photos. You can download the tours before heading out on the road so you don't have to worry about paying for mobile data. Each tour includes a map to help you find the locations.”
I downloaded and installed the app on my iPhone and tried downloading the tour of Auckland to Hamilton. The app suggests downloading the tour beforehand so in can be used without an Internet connection. Very wise advice, because my home wifi connection is faster and cheaper than using data connection on the phone.

But there’s more to it than just an app.

The tours are on YouTube, grouped into playlists. The tours are also integrated with Google Maps, and you can subscribe to the tours as podcasts through iTunes—all of them or just the tours you’re interested in. All 110 MP3s are available as a single 550MB download, too.

I think all of this is fantastic—and a great idea. My only criticism is that there’s no mention of an Android app, and I think there should be one. Still the availability of the tours on YouTube and as podcasts does help make tours accessible to those without iPhones. It just could be better.

Anything that encourages people to tour New Zealand is a good thing, and things that make that touring easier is better still. So far, this seems to be a both. It’s also nice to see government using technology in new ways.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Auckland is very liveable

Auckland has been ranked the tenth most liveable city in the world out of 140 ranked in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) latest Liveability Ranking. Vancouver dropped out of first place for the first time in a decade. Harare in Zimbabwe was at 140, the worst of all the cities ranked.

The ranking was originally developed to help human relations departments of large companies work out whether workers posted overseas should be paid allowances. The uses have grown from there.

To work out the ranking, “Every city is assigned a rating of relative comfort for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure. Each factor in a city is rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable.”

They then weight the scores from 1 to 100, where 1 is considered intolerable and 100 is considered ideal. The less ideal a city is, the more an expat worker should be paid and, logically, the better a city is, the less their bonus should be. The EIU’s own recommendation is that workers shouldn’t receive a bonus if a city’s score is above 80.

Vancouver was first-equal with Melbourne in 2002, taking the top spot in the next ranking and holding it ever since. In this edition of the rankings, Vancouver dropped to third place after the city’s overall score dropped because of “a slight decline in its transport infrastructure score.” Vienna climbed into second place as Melbourne took first place, despite no change in its score.

Seven of the top ten cities are in Canada or Australia (3 and 4, respectively) and two cities are in Europe (Vienna at number two and Helsinki at 7). Auckland rounds out the top ten in tenth place, meaning Commonwealth countries have 8 out of the top ten most liveable cities.

However, the EIU notes that, “The performance of the most liveable cities reflects minimal variation between the scores of the top locations… only 1.8 percentage points separate the top ten cities. In this context, some 63 cities (down to Santiago in Chile) are considered to be in the very top tier of liveability…” Put another way, the relative rankings of the top cities don’t matter that much. Wellington was in 23rd place.

The closeness of the rankings in the top tier, the EIU notes, shows that the highest ranked cities have certain common characteristics and “tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density.” According to the EIU, this “can foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.”

These rankings are another measure of how cities compare with each other, a way of evaluating their relative performance. While it remains useful as a way of determining if workers temporarily posted overseas should get any special allowances or not, they also provide another tool for would-be permanent migrants to evaluate the places they’re looking at moving to.

However, all these rankings are tools, not final indicators nor definitive statements on what places are best to move to permanently. That determination rests, as it always has, with the expat who must decide based on largely personal criteria whether a potential foreign home is a good fit or not. Rankings like this are helpful, but they can never provide the full answer.

Still, it is interesting, at the very least.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Welcome to Spring

Spring arrived today, and not a moment too soon. I don’t like winter, not even the mild “Winter Lite” that Auckland gets. It still gets too cold for me, without even the payoff of a snowstorm (no, those little flurries last month don’t count).

Our Northern Hemisphere cousins enter autumn this month, though when, precisely, that happens points to a major difference between my two hometowns.

When I lived in Chicago, people always referred to seasons starting on the equinox or solstice (as the case may be), which refers to the astronomical seasons (this year, the September equinox is September 23 at 0905 UTC). Apart from one TV weatherman who pointed out that Chicago’s meteorological seasons didn’t match the astronomical ones, I really don’t remember any dissent from the equinox/solstice dogma.

In New Zealand, it’s the opposite: I can’t think of anyone at all who refers to anything but meteorological seasons, meaning the first of the month (September, December, March and June) as the start of the new seasons. The NZ media talk of nothing else, only mentioning an equinox or solstice in passing, as if observing one is a quaint superstition, like throwing spilled salt over one’s shoulder.

The reality is that whether one adheres to the astronomical equinox/solstice orthodoxy or the meteorological first of the month variant, neither is perfect: Since weather is changeable, the actual arrival of seasons will vary. This is why some meteorologists use other ways than calendars to fix the start of a season, as the Scandinavians who say Spring starts when the average daily temperature is above 0c.

Just to confuse things even more, ecologists often use six-seasons for temperate regions. In addition to the four we’re all familiar with—spring (vernal), summer (estival), autumn (autumnal) and winter (hibernal)—ecologists add pre-spring (prevernal) and late summer (serotinal) as distinct seasons. In the tropics, there are typically two seasons: Wet season and dry season; since the temperature/sunlight varies so little, precipitation is a better indicator of seasons.

In most years, the seasonal changes I’ve lived through have happened in accordance with the meteorological model—close to the first of the month of change, and not some three weeks later.

So, yeah: Welcome to Spring.