Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Miss Piggy FTW

From the video description on YouTube:
“Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy hit back at Fox News during a UK press conference following the London Premiere of their new film. Fox had publically criticized the film for supposedly pushing a 'dangerous liberal agenda' at kids.

“Kermit mocks their blatant and pointless fear mongering before Miss Piggy offers her own opinion on Fox News.”
So, since Kermit says Miss Piggy’s comment will be “all over the Internet”, naturally I have to help make it so. Plus, she’s right, of course.

Tip o' the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

B is for Books

I love books, and always have. I love having them around, looking at them and sometimes even reading them. Mostly, I like having them around.

I come by this naturally: My mother was a book lover, too. My father, on the other hand, could easily throw books away. My mother and I thought that was sacrilege.

Over the years, I built up a pretty good library—twice. First, when I was living in the US and helped by inheriting books from my parents, then again in New Zealand, where I helped add to the library Nigel already had—but with very few from my US library, most of which I left behind.

I used to say that I drew power from having books around, until I realised that sounded a bit quasi-spiritual, which wasn’t at all what I meant. Instead, I meant that books energise me. When I see all my books in front of me, I think of all the ideas and words within them and become inspired to keep searching for a few of my own.

But things are very different now. I still love having a library of books, but having packed and moved them many, many times now, I can definitely see the attraction of a small library. That’s going far too far for me, though.

Instead, my biggest shift in attitude has been nurtured by the Internet and all things computer. It began when I started downloading free “plain vanilla” texts of classic public domain books from Project Gutenberg. It was a great thing, I thought, but frankly a little hard to read on a computer screen. So, graphics person I am, I tried turning a couple into real books and found it was much harder than I’d imagined.

And so it stayed for many years until the Kindle was introduced. At the time, I thought it was too expensive and failed the “bathtub test”: Drop a book in a bathtub, and you’re out around $40; drop a Kindle, and at the time it was many times that price.

Nevertheless, in July of 2010, I downloaded my first Kindle edition of a book, which I read on my iPod Touch. I found it easier to read Kindle editions once I had a iPad, but the darn thing was heavy. Then, Nigel gave me a Kindle for my birthday, and so far I love it.

It turns out, I’m in good company. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released a report that found that over the holidays there was a huge surge in the percentage of Americans who have a tablet computer (like an iPad or similar) or an e-reader (like a Kindle, Nook, etc.): “The share of adults who own either device [nearly doubled], from 10% to 19%.” The overall percentages are still relatively low, but the rate of increase is impressive.

There are many things about them that are good, and they have many features that make them a great way to read books (chief among the benefits, in my opinion, is that readers can carry suitcases of books on the one device, which makes packing for trips much easier and with far less back strain).

Still, e-readers and tablet computers are not books. Books to me a special thing, far more special than merely a page displaying on an electronic device. I like having them around, after all. Turns out, I like having e-readers around, too.

Are you a book person? If so, is it ink-on-paper-only, electronic only or both?

The image at the top of this post is a Creative Commons licensed photo, “Old book bindings at Merton College Library” (25 August 2005), by Tom Murphy VII. It is available for download through Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Three years ago today

Three years ago today, we had our civil union and became recognised as a couple under New Zealand law—not that it mattered then or now to the US Government (it may now be different in my home state of Illinois, for strictly state matters, of course). Similarly, the civil union we had three years ago today was made possible by a Labour-led government; the current prime minister, John Key of the conservative National Party, voted against it and refuses to say if he’d vote for it if the vote was held now.

But that’s all backdrop, the behind-the-scenes stuff that doesn’t actually affect us. On that hot day three years ago, we formally and legally pledged our lives together, even though at that point we’d already been together thirteen years. Even so, it was nice to be able to stand in front of friends and family and make that long-term commitment formal and recognised under law.

Tonight we went out for a fancy dinner at a local restaurant. We were celebrating not just that event three years ago, but the fact that we’re as strong as ever. Sometimes, love really does conquer all—even politics.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Steps Down

A sad video, but the correct move, I think. I’m not going to comment on her politics or the timing of the announcement or the incident that led to this result, except to note how remarkable her recovery has been. I hope she continues to improve to the point where she’s happy with the result.

However, I'd strongly urge that people don’t read the comments on YouTube—they’re filled with the usual anonymous Internet haters, some extremely vile and many outright deranged (like the one that said all the vile comments were being posted by Democrats trying to make Republicans look bad. Whatever.).

I get that politics in America are polarised, with an unbridgeable divide between Republicans and Democrats, but can’t there be at least some situations in which people just, you know, restrain themselves? It seems as if some people just haven’t learned the lessons from that fateful day, about how toxic and extreme rhetoric benefits no one, only making things potentially dangerous. I’m not saying people shouldn’t criticise their opponents and adversaries, just that a little common decency doesn’t get in the way of robust debate—and it sure would be a nice change.

Update January 26: Today Rep. Gabrielle Giffords officially resigned from the US House of Representatives. US Representative Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, head of the Democratic National Committee and a friend of Giffords, read the letter to the House (video below). Wasserman-Shultz was often tearful, as were other representatives. I thought that the way the House treated her was classy. If only they could be like that more often.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Not an indicator

Probably the only thing that irritates me more than people having zero understanding of history is when people completely misunderstand history and read into it all sorts of nonsense, almost as if history itself is some sort of magic.

We’re seeing this right now with the South Carolina Republican Primary in which people are saying that because a pattern exists, it therefore predicts what always will happen. This isn’t about the politics of that election or the campaign generally, but the absurd declaration that in the years since Reagan won it, no Republican has won the Republican presidential nomination without first winning the South Carolina primary, and so, Mitt Romney is in trouble. What a load of codswallop.

To be sure, Romney has many problems—his elitism and the fact he’s a Mormon are chief among them—but losing South Carolina is not one of his problems. What’s happened in South Carolina since 1980 is a coincidence, possibly somewhat interesting, but nothing more than that.

For the meme to be true, it would mean that all Republicans in all the other states would have to say, “gosh, Newt won South Carolina, so we have to vote for him now.” That’s just absurd. Or, it would require some sort of magic spell, because nothing else could bring about something as absurd as having Republicans in more mainstream states vote according to the whims of South Carolina Republicans.

A meme we heard earlier was that in recent elections, the winner of the Iowa Republican Caucuses didn’t often go on to win the Republican nomination, a meme the news media quickly dropped when their anointed frontrunner, Romney, won. I suppose that now that the final votes have given the victory to Santorum it means that they’ll quote it again. I saw an AP story that said, “this the first time in history a different candidate has captured a win in each of the first three presidential nominating contests,” as if that is in itself a shocking fact, as if history’s magic spell is broken.

This sort of thing isn’t unique to politics. I’ve often seen sports commentators say equally absurd things, like, “Over the past 24 years, Team A has never won a game against Team B at Big Huge Stadium”. They forget to mention that the scenario they set up covers only 4 games over that time and the fact Team A lost all four isn’t weird at all.

I know that people can come back at me with longer streaks, ones that seem to defy probability, but human behaviour doesn’t always fit neatly within the laws of probability—which, by the way, also include the possibility of the improbable happening, like long losing streaks or historic “patterns” in election wins and losses.

Superstition can be fun—I always throw a pinch of spilled salt over my shoulder (in my case, to feel a connection with my superstitious ancestors). But superstition is no way to pick someone to vote for or to “predict” future voting behaviour. It is, no matter how long the pattern goes on, nothing more than irrational superstition.

Romney may not ultimately be the Republican nominee, and Newt might not be, either. But when whoever wins that nomination steps up to the podium of their convention to make his acceptance speech, I can absolutely guarantee his doing that will have nothing to do with who won the South Carolina Republican primary over the past three decades. Yes, the past is prologue, but it’s absolutely not an indicator.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The annual increasing number

Today is my birthday, always a highlight of my personal year. I first talked about that back in 2008, when I was a mere lad of 49. That means, of course, that the next year was a rather big deal—so much so, apparently, that it used up my energy for the following year’s birthday post. Last year, I kind of rounded out what I said in that first birthday post.

I was thinking this morning that, technically, I’m just one day older than I was yesterday, even though I’m now also one year older. I suppose if you want to be super technical about it, I’m neither until tomorrow, when January 21 arrives in the place I was actually born. Whatever—though I do kind of like the idea of celebrating my birthday over two days!

Tonight we had pizza for my birthday dinner. In past years we’ve had a barbecue on the weekend closest to my birthday, and I’ve always thought that was kind of exotic, since I was born, my mother told me, during a blizzard. For the first 36 years of my life, cold and snow were the backdrops to whatever celebrations I had.

Still, even as a child in the wintry Midwest of the US, a bit of summery flourish on my birthday wasn’t uncommon. I remember one year when I was quite young my mother froze corn on the cob so she could cook it for my birthday dinner (I loved corn on the cob); at that age, I was still easily led by her. As I got older and started to choose my own dinner, none had, as far as I can remember, any summery treats.

That changed when I moved to New Zealand; with its upside down seasons, my birthday was suddenly in summer. All of which is why the idea of a barbecue on my birthday seems exotic. Still, variety is good, so some years we’ve gone to a restaurant and this year it’s one of my favourite foods, something that I don’t have very often.

The pizza came as a bit of a reward. Yesterday afternoon, Nigel and I started staining the deck we’d extended last winter. We’ve been waiting months for a couple stable days of weather at the same time we were free to do the staining—a seemingly impossible combination. Today, we finished staining the new deck and part of the old. Good progress.

So, we earned that pizza. However, I actually earned it mainly by managing to make it to another birthday. And the best part? Cold pizza for breakfast. Bliss.

The image accompanying this post is a detail from a Creative Commons-licensed photo by Babymestizo, taken in Joliet, Illinois in 2010.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gift of reading

I may be a slow reader, but I nevertheless enjoy the endeavour. Getting books, and affording them, are often a challenge in New Zealand, as any American expat will tell you. Today I took one step further toward solving those dilemmas.

Tomorrow is my birthday, and Nigel (the most wonderful husband in the world, by the way) gave me my present early: An Amazon Kindle (WiFi version). I’ve barely had a chance to do more than set it up and download all my purchases to it, but I already love it!

Last September, I wrote about the Kindle arriving in New Zealand. I think it was pretty obvious that I was smitten, and yet, I didn’t think I could “justify” it when I already had the Kindle software on my i-devices. I was wrong.

Even in the box the Kindle weighed a fraction of my iPad, and weight has always been a major issue for me with e-readers. No one device can yet do everything well, and if I was buying a content-rich multimedia publication (or even a magazine or book with lots of photos), I’d use my iPad.

But for ordinary books, especially ones that may change or that are horribly expensive in New Zealand (which is nearly every book on the New York Times bestseller list…), Kindle is the best way to go.

I’m absolutely NOT abandoning traditional books; there are some that are, in my opinion, absolutely required to be traditional ink on paper. But for the rest, there’s Kindle, one of the best birthday presents ever from the best husband ever.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Familiar activism

Today several US-based Internet companies blacked-out their sites in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA-PIPA), a proposed US law that would, in essence, allow US media conglomerates to censor the Internet—or even wreck it completely. Above is a screen capture of the English-language Wikipedia.

This is all very familiar. Nearly three years ago, New Zealand Internet sites blacked out in protest over Section 92A, a truly vile piece of arse-licking for the US entertainment industry backed by former Labour MP and all-around useless political hack, Judith Tizzard. As a result, the National Party-led government backed down and abandoned Tizzard’s rubbish law. The new one is slightly better, though many of us are waiting for a Labour-Green government that will repeal this bad law.

The US protest seems to have worked, too, with the Los Angeles Times reporting that three Republican co-sponsors have seen sense and withdrawn their support. President Obama has also expressed his opposition, too.

One of the things that was remarkable about this opposition is that it came from people all over the political spectrum, from the left through to the “tea party” people. It just goes to show that there are, indeed, some issues on which all freedom-loving people can agree. Even some New Zealand sites joined the protest.

There’s been a trend over the past couple decades toward concentrating power in the hands of corporations, but every once in awhile people prevail. One day, perhaps, the people will prevail once and for all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A is for Adventure

I’ve always loved change—thrived on it, even. Sure bad change, like an accident or illness can be, well, bad, but change that involves moving forward is for me always a good thing. I’ve always thought of life itself as an adventure, and have thought the same about some specific things I may have been doing.

But, are they really adventures?

Adventure is usually properly defined as some bold, exciting, unusual and probably risky activity. Life in general may fit that definition sometimes, but day-to-day life probably seldom does. And yet, some of life’s most seemingly mundane tasks can, in my opinion, still be part of a larger adventure.

For a couple years, we lived in Paeroa, a small faming service town in the Waikato. We bought an older house and did it up. The whole experience was, for us, an adventure as we lived in small-town New Zealand and took on building/renovation projects that neither of us had ever done before.

I think most of us have those kinds of adventures. We’re all probably more Huckleberry Finn than Odysseus (probably with a bit of Bill and Ted [watch the trailer] thrown in), which also goes to show that our adventures, even when not the stuff of epics, can still be interesting.

Some of us have adventures when we travel, and if you’re talking about adventure tourism, there’s probably no better place than New Zealand, a country bounding with all sorts of activities. For me, of course, moving to New Zealand was the start of an adventure, so there’s really no need for me to engage in specific activities.

And that’s kind of my point: Adventure is where we find it. Even if we don’t choose to take ten years to sail around trying to get home, what we do can still be an adventure if that’s how we look at it—and I think we should. I love the adventure in change.

What do you consider to be an adventure?

Footnote: I’ve never done an ABC Wednesday blog post before, but thought I’d try it because the discipline involved in participation kind of intrigues me. Still, I thought I’d better keep it simple for the first post, to kind of ease in slowly. We’ll see how it goes. Be sure to check out this week’s posts on other blogs.

The public domain illustration at the top of this post depicts Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" from Stand Magazine (1892).

Please explain

There was an odd incident that hit the news this week: New Zealand on Air, which funds the production of television programming, will forbid voter education. That’s what the political line was and, of course, it was exaggerated—but the truth is still worrying.

NZOA funded a documentary, “Inside Child Poverty: A Special Report” for TV3’s Inside New Zealand series. TV3 scheduled the documentary for shortly before the election and the board members of NZOA became “concerned”. Board member Stephen McElrea was the first to complain about the documentary airing so close to the election, and NZOA went on to claim the concern was about its own independence and impartiality being questioned because of the documentary screening close the election. The was the dubious excuse used for the board seeking legal advice on whether it could add a clause to funding contracts forbidding the airing of documentaries on subjects “likely” to be an election issue, during the weeks of the official campaign.

This was silly on its face. Had anyone raised an eyebrow, it would most likely have been about TV3 airing the programme close the election (even though TV3’s owner, Media Works, has close ties to the National Party’s powerhouse, Stephen Joyce). I seriously doubt that anyone would question the impartiality of the funding agency any more than they’d question the impartiality of advertisers during the programme.

So, if there’s no real threat to the perception of NZ On Air’s impartiality, what’s going on? Stephen McElrea, who first complained and led the fight, is also John Key's electorate chairman. It looks as if McElrea was concerned about the documentary because he thought it was unflattering toward the National Party-led government. If so, the story about NZOA’s image was merely a distraction.

Personally, I think the political interference of the NZOA board has done far more to damage its perceived impartiality than airing the documentary ever could have done, even if the news media hadn’t been too obsessed at the time with the “tea party tape” silliness to take any notice of it. NZOA ought to stick to what it’s set up to do—funding New Zealand programming—and leave the broadcasting decisions to the broadcasters, because that’s what being impartial both means and requires.

But there was another “controversary” that requires an explanation: Apparently the husband in the spokesfamily used in the TV commercials for the Countdown supermarket chain in New Zealand looks to be a bigamist! To be honest, this is far more entertaining than any lame politicians could ever be.

Worth quoting: Andrew Sullivan

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Andrew Sullivan on this blog, much less quoted him. I often disagree with him, sometimes strongly, but when I agree with him, he puts things far better and more strongly than I could hope to do.

So here’s an excerpt from a piece he wrote for Newsweek, “How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics”. Read the whole thing—it’s well-stated and a must for any Obama supporter, as well as those who suspect (correctly) that Republican propaganda, like that of some progressives, isn’t entirely correct:
“[Liberals] miss, it seems to me, two vital things. The first is the simple scale of what has been accomplished on issues liberals say they care about. A depression was averted. The bail-out of the auto industry was—amazingly—successful. Even the bank bailouts have been repaid to a great extent by a recovering banking sector. The Iraq War—the issue that made Obama the nominee—has been ended on time and, vitally, with no troops left behind. Defense is being cut steadily, even as Obama has moved his own party away from a Pelosi-style reflexive defense of all federal entitlements. Under Obama, support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization has crested to record levels. Under Obama, a crucial state, New York, made marriage equality for gays an irreversible fact of American life. Gays now openly serve in the military, and the Defense of Marriage Act is dying in the courts, undefended by the Obama Justice Department. Vast government money has been poured into noncarbon energy investments, via the stimulus. Fuel-emission standards have been drastically increased. Torture was ended. Two moderately liberal women replaced men on the Supreme Court. Oh, yes, and the liberal holy grail that eluded Johnson and Carter and Clinton, nearly universal health care, has been set into law. Politifact recently noted that of 508 specific promises, a third had been fulfilled and only two have not had some action taken on them. To have done all this while simultaneously battling an economic hurricane makes Obama about as honest a follow-through artist as anyone can expect from a politician.”
Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God., the comments for which are, sadly, filled with the usual supposedly progressive/liberal Obama haters who prove Sullivan’s point by dismissing, disregarding and disrespecting the progress the country has made under Obama because it doesn’t fit their mental picture of what should have been done in their perfect world, or because it wasn’t done by whoever their perfect candidate was.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Useful clarifications

Update January 17: As you can see from the screenshot above, the video I posted was taken down after the cry-babies at Focus on You Own Damn Family threw a tantrum. I put it like that because although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it seems to me that the video fell well within “fair use” since it was for purposes of education and criticism, and the rightwing does the same thing all the time, usually without attribution, never with permission. So, what FOYODF engaged in was nothing less than censorship for purely political reasons—that, and they hated that someone dared to stand up to them and their hypocrisy. I’m leaving the rest of the post as it was because the larger points are still valid.

This video improves and adds clarification to an ad run by Focus on You Own Damn Family. It adds the context that the original ad failed to include, thereby showing the rank hypocrisy of FOYODF.

The rightwing group made the commercial because—well, I’m not sure why they were running it, actually. Obviously it’s proselytising Christianity, but I’m not sure why, exactly, they’re not leaving that to expressly religious groups. What? They’re not secular? I’m shocked!

Seriously, FOYODF spun off “Family” Research Council some years back because the latter group’s expressly political (and often partisan) activity threatened the charity status of FOYODF. Since then, of course, the “F”RC has become one of the US’ leading SPLC-certified anti-gay hate groups. Most recently, the “F”RC led a Klonvocation of “Anybody But Mitt” far-right Republicans who, not surprisingly, settled on “F”RC’s own favourite candidate, Rick Santorum.

What this all boils down to, really, is this: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” FOYODF ignores the good works their big piles of cash could do for people who really need help, in order to stop two consenting adults who love one another from marrying. That’s pretty sick and twisted.

And if this sounds harsh in any way, consider that this is after I invoked the two-day rule. Some criticisms just don’t deserve to be softened.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weekend Diversion: Bookshelf stop-motion

There are some people with way too much time on their hands. This is fortunate for them, because it helps capture their boundless imagination, and that’s fortunate for us because it all provides hours of distraction. Well, maybe having hours of distraction available isn’t that fortunate for us, but still.

These two unusual videos are basically animated bookshelves. The one above was posted in July of last year, the one below about a week ago. To say they’re ambitious is a bit of an understatement.

The videos, the top one in particular, reminded me of the video for OMD’s “The History of Modern, Part 1”, which I posted in February last year. Then, in the wonderful world that is YouTube, I found a short video posted five years ago that was similar in some ways to the first video. That then led to the discovery that there are a lot of videos from people who conduct tours of their bookshelves, and a few who talk about how they organise their bookshelves. I didn’t watch all those. I don’t have that much time on my hands.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Romney's delusion

From the news:
"I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent — and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it."
Mitt Romney, frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, in an interview.
Fresh from telling America that he likes to fire people, Mitt Romney has now underscored how far out of touch he is with the needs and concerns of the 99% of Americans who aren’t as wealthy as him. It has nothing to do with “envy”, and everything to do with a sense of being screwed over by the rich corporate elites.

The chart above (and apologies—I have no idea where it originally came from; click to embiggen) shows the growth in average after-tax income since 1979 and adjusted for inflation. What it shows is that the folks like Romney in the 1% have done spectacularly well, and the other 99% did not. The lower the incomes, the worse people did, so that the bottom 20% saw basically no income growth at all for three decades, and for two-thirds of that time they were simply trying to get back to where they were in 1979. In stark contrast, folks in the 1% like Romney never actually lost income; their income growth declined in some years, but the income itself nevertheless continued to grow, and far faster than middle income earners.

What all of this means is that average, mainstream Americans see the obscene growth in the wealth of the 1% and they see themselves fighting hard just to stay afloat and not go backwards. They see the Republicans giving the 1% tax breaks and refusing to make them pay their fair share, instead burdening ordinary, mainstream Americans with heavy taxed that hold them back.

Mitt Romney likes to fire people, and as head of vulture firm Bain Capital he did that thousands of times as he destroyed jobs—and lives. So what people feel about the rich elites in the 1% like Mitt Romney isn’t “envy”—it’s disgust and anger. And deservedly so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rhetoric matters

On Monday, I mentioned what appeared to me to be a new tactic used by a morals crusader, namely, suggesting that the word “gay” when applied to gay people is an offensive epithet. And then I saw a related, even synergistic, attack on the word.

First a bit of background. Time was, rightwing bigots used to decry the word, declaring in basso profundo, “there’s nothing gay about them!” The somewhat less dour bigots would simply complain about how we’d “ruined a perfectly good word”.

Times change, and apart from the deviation into the youthful fad of saying “that’s so gay!” the English-speaking world pretty much moved on and accepted the word gay in its modern usage. Well, the mainstream did: Hardcore rightwingers still don’t.

And that lies at the heart of all this. Fundamentalist religionists prefer the term “homosexual” precisely because it sounds so clinical. At best, it sounds like a disease (which they think it is), or perhaps a crime (which they think it should be), but they also know that most people hear only or especially the third syllable—sex—which is what the right wants people to think about, namely, that gay people are all about sex, sex, sex.

Personally, I think this is what was at the heart of the BSA complaint I wrote about on Monday: Remember that the campaigner first claimed that the use of the word gay instead of homosexual was not objective or impartial. Most of us focussed on the bizarre bit about gay, used correctly, being a slur; to the rightwing, however, it would be a slur since they think there’s hardly anything worse than being gay.

Primary elections explained

Here’s something for my non-American friends (and probably a few American ones, too…): In this video, my favourite YouTube explainer, C.G.P. Grey, explains how the US presidential selection process works, including the differences between caucuses and primaries, and so much more.

Long-time readers may recall that in the run up to the New Zealand elections last November, I posted several of C.G.P. Grey’s videos explaining the various election systems we were presented with as part of our referendum on MMP. They were all very helpful.

But he does so much more than explain voting systems: Recent videos have talked about the end of the world, death to pennies, the real history of Santa Claus, and so much more. I love his videos. You can check them all out on his YouTube Channel.

The Tory Trifecta

A few months ago, I took advantage of the “subscribe” function in Facebook to follow the postings of rightwing Auckland Councillor George Wood, who represents my Ward. I didn’t vote for him, so I had no desire to be “friends” with him, but I nevertheless was interested in what he was doing as my representative.

What I ended up with was a window on the worldview of Tories at the local level in Auckland. I can’t say I understand them any more than I did before, but I at least appreciate how they view the world, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the strike against the Ports of Auckland.

I won’t get into the specifics of the dispute, in part because even after all these weeks, I don’t think I understand it at all—and neither do most Aucklanders. This, of course, plays into the hands of conservatives, including in the newsmedia, who can slant the story to fit their agenda. And they did.

At first, the rightwing meme was that this was all the fault of the evil labour union, whose members, they declared, are without exception lazy, grossly overpaid, belligerent, selfish and myopic. Their rhetoric exceeded reality, of course (which is a nice way of saying they often lied, exaggerated or distorted in the nature of a lie), but the average Aucklander would have no practical way of knowing that. However, mainstream Aucklanders also probably didn’t really care, being more concerned with the holidays.

Enter meme 2: It’s all Auckland Mayor Len Brown’s fault. Tories hate Mayor Brown because he’s from the centre left (reason enough, in their view), so they look for things to blame on him. In this case, they insisted he should have personally intervened to end the dispute, but the fact that he didn’t meant he was a failure. Or something (their logic was difficult to follow).

The problem for them is that when Rodney Hide and the N’Act Party set up the new Auckland, they deliberately kept assets like the port at arms length from the Council, mainly to make it easier to sell off to private foreign investors (the port is currently owned by the people of Auckland). What this means is that the structure that the conservatives themselves put in place makes it virtually impossible for any mayor of Auckland to have a role in ending a strike, except, perhaps, a largely symbolic one. So, this meme didn’t stick, either.

Enter the third rightwing meme: The port’s problems would all disappear if it was privatised: The unions would disappear, profits would skyrocket and the sun would be shining all day. Their logic is that if the port is taken away from the people of Auckland and sold off, that will make the port “better” and operate “more efficiently” (meaning, apparently, with no unions), thereby delivering higher profits. Why, it’d be Tory Magic in action!

Their agenda-driven meme has major holes, the biggest of which you could drive a port-load of container ships through: WHO owns the port has nothing to do with profitability, “efficiency” or anything else. Such things are the job of management to bring about, and they alone are accountable. In the Holy Private Sector™, if a company does poorly, no one fires the shareholders—they sack the CEO and other top executives. It’s no different with Ports of Auckland. Unhappy with its performance? Then sack the managers!

This saga shows The Tory Trifecta of memes: 1. All unions are bad/evil and must be destroyed, 2. All centre-left politicians are incompetent by virtue of being centre-left and not from the National Party, the Natural Party of Government™, and 3. All problems facing society could be solved if only everything could be flogged-off to foreign buyers.

In my brief exposure to the Tory worldview of local government, I’ve seen one or more of these memes used for any topic they may be discussing (and there have been several), but this is the first in which I’ve seen all three Tory memes. It’s been fascinating to watch.

Much as I disagree with these Tories on asset sales and their anti-union, anti-Mayor Brown posturing, I do give them one thing: They generally don’t display the unhinged ravings of commentators on newspaper websites, and that leads me to think that maybe critics of the Internet are right: It’s the anonymous nature of most comment boards that leads to the vitriol and extreme rhetoric we so often see. On Facebook, after all, people can only comment using their real name (since most Facebook users don’t seem inclined to try and get away with a “nom de web”). All of this means they’re more likely to express honestly-held opinions, even when they’re extreme—but generally not too extreme.

There’s a saying that local government in New Zealand is for politicians who aren’t smart enough to make it in Parliament. There’s another that local government politicians and political activists are made up of the “mad, sad and unemployed”. This Facebook window has shown me why those sayings persist.

Someone finally went there - the last time I talked about George Wood.
My political secret - I referred obliquely to Tory commentators in this post.

A busy year for marriage equality

Above is the latest Marriage News Watch video from Matt Baume. When I posted the first video of these videos for this year, it looked like it would be a busy year in the battle for marriage equality, and this video confirms that. What struck me, though, wasn’t how much is going on, but how much of it is good news.

There’s not just news in this video, but some real examples of why marriage equality matters—like the desperate situations created when the anti-gay Republican (isn’t that phrase redundant?) Michigan governor stripped away “domestic partnership” benefits for the partners of state employees. There’s even an item about a bi-national same-sex couple getting a temporary reprieve—subject to who wins the White House in 2012.

This will be a very busy year.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A new tactic

Morals campaigners are a wacky bunch under the best of circumstances; so cock-sure of their own righteous superiority that they feel they have the right to dictate to everyone else how they should live their lives. I suppose everyone needs a hobby.

Usually, the objects of the tut-tutting, finger-wagging and stern lectures are people who are not social and/or religious conservatives—the vast majority of society, in other words. And, of course, the most frequent targets of these morals crusaders are GLBT people.

A few years ago, such crusading resulted in the Broadcast Standards Authority upholding a complaint against TVNZ’s Shortland Street soap opera for the first time ever—because of a gay storyline. Complaints are often made to the Advertising Standards Authority, too, whenever anything remotely GLBT-positive is advertised.

Recently, a morals crusader used a new tactic, one I’ve never seen before, and it again involved the Broadcast Standards Authority.

Hamilton man Leo Leitch complained about a news item broadcast on TVNZ’s One News. In their Decision Number 2011-118 (dated December 20), the BSA described the news report this way:
“An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 13 August 2011, was introduced by a newsreader who stated, ‘Our tourism industry is getting an unexpected boost as an influx of gay couples heads across the Tasman to tie the knot. Civil unions still aren’t legally recognised in Australia but pressure’s mounting on politicians to revisit the issue.’ A reporter introduced one such couple saying, ‘They’re gay and in their eyes, very much married.’”
Leitch complained that the item breached controversial issues, accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards because, he claimed, “the item’s use of the word ‘gay’ instead of ‘homosexual’ was not objective or impartial,” and “he considered that is was akin to using the words ‘fairy’, ‘poofter’ or ‘faggot’, which ‘would not be tolerated for a moment’.”

I have never heard a morals crusader make that claim before, and I find it hard to believe anyone would—or even could—take it seriously. Fortunately, the BSA thought it was absurd, too:
“In our view, the term ‘gay’ is commonly accepted and widely used in reference to homosexuals and homosexuality. It is not a derogatory term when used in this manner, and we disagree that it is in the same realm as ‘poofter’ or ‘faggot’, as alleged by the complainant. On this occasion, the item subject to complaint was a straightforward news report, and the reporter’s use of the term did not carry any invective or make any judgement on the item’s subject matter.”
All of which is simple common sense, which any sensible person would agree with. The BSA went further.

The BSA stated that no issue of broadcast standards were raised, and pointed out that since “Section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 allows the Authority to decline to determine a complaint which it considers to be frivolous, vexatious, or trivial,” they therefore declined to determine Leitch’s complaint “on the grounds that it was frivolous and trivial.”

What this means, basically, is that the BSA refused to even take the complaint seriously. Ouch.

This is the one area of New Zealand life where the self-righteous will attempt to assert control over the majority, but their efforts usually fail. That’s as it should be. But it’s a pity so many of them still waste other people’s time and money with silly, self-righteous moralising.

The rest of us have more important things to do—and probably real hobbies, too.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

22 months of US job growth

While millions of Americans are still hurting, and the US economy, like that of many countries, still has a long way to go, good news is good news.

Said the Obama campaign:
"We shared this chart with you earlier this week, and we've updated it today with new numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the economy added 212,000 private sector jobs in December, for 22 consecutive months of job growth. While the news is encouraging, we've still got a lot of work to do to strengthen the economy, and President Obama remains focused on doing everything he can to get Americans back to work, from taking We Can't Wait actions to pressuring Congress to do their jobs."
It turns out that 2011 was the best year for private-sector job growth since 2005, and the second best since 1999, as documented by Steven Benen of the Washington Monthly. That's good news, and important.

The world economy needs the US economy to grow. News like this suggests that it is, however slowly. It’s a start.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Auckland squatters

It shouldn’t have been like this.

Today Nigel had a meeting in the Auckland CBD, so I went along. I thought it was a good time to check up on the squatters at Aotea Square. The few folks remaining there are in open violation of a court order.

The photo at the top is what’s left of the squatters—roughly a third of the space they formerly occupied, but with probably about the same number of people actually staying there overnight. Those brown patches in the grass in the foreground of this photo were caused by the “occupiers”. We ratepayers will have to pay to repair this—after spending tens of thousands of dollars to establish the lawns before the occupiers ruined them. And we scarcely even got the chance to enjoy them before the occupiers took them away from us.

The photo below is of the damage the occupiers caused in one of the sections they finally left after the court ordered them to do so. This view looks back, basically, toward where I shot the above photo from.

I’m a good, old-time liberal. If the “occupy” people have lost me, and they definitely have, then they have lost their reason to continue, and that means it’s way past time for them ALL to go home.

What it comes down to is this: These people claim to be protesting on behalf of “the 1 percent”. Fine. But what they forget is that the 89 percent will be the ones who will have to pay for the “protests” by the—and I’m being generous here—bottom 10 percent. The 1% will never have to pay a cent, and neither will the poorest of the poor. The burden will fall, as it always does, on the vast majority who are between the extremes. We resent that, and the “protesters” fail because they cannot or refuse or understand that simple fact.

Damaged grass is a trivial thing for legitimate protest. But I don’t know a single mainstream Aucklander who sees the “occupy” people as in any way legitimate protesters. Instead, they are seen as spoiled, self-centred, naive and expecting to get a free ride through life with hardworking people paying for it. People who have to struggle to make ends meet really aren’t terribly interested in the self-important pontifications of a spoiled subset of this city.

And that, ultimately, is the worst thing of all: The people who call themselves protesters could have engaged all those shut-out by the ruling elites, they could have built a leftist movement that very well might have moved governments. Instead, they have alienated the very people who would be their support and natural allies, and in so doing have destroyed any chance for a broad-based leftist force. They have utterly failed, and they’re the only ones who don’t seem to know that.

Auckland’s “occupy” “protesters” have nothing in common with their American counterparts—the issues there are nothing like they are here, the objectives are totally different, and there is pretty much zero public support here. The vast majority of Aucklanders see them only as squatters—who we, the majority, have to pay for.

It shouldn’t have been like this.


Everybody loves comedians, don’t they? The funny ones, not the bad ones. And not clowns— some people are frightened of clowns. No, I mean the ones who are actually funny.

Like the US’ Republican politicians, pundits and preachers.

They say some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard! Take the latest one from those Republican politicians, pundits and preachers, the one about how President Obama is a “dictator” because he’s made “unprecedented” recess appointments to get around Republican obstructionism. They joke that it’s unconstitutional, which they know is funny because their deliberate defiance of their Constitutional duty really is unprecedented, and because the fact that their doing this in order to block the Executive Branch means their actions really are unconstitutional, and also because lots of presidents have made loads of recess appointments.

Wait, what? They meant that seriously? Hm, perhaps history can help us here:
  • President William J. Clinton made 139 recess appointments, 95 to full-time positions.
  • President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments, of which 99 were to full-time positions.
  • President Barack Obama had made 28 recess appointments as of December 8, 2011, all to full-time positions.
Neither the US Constitution nor court rulings have specified how long the Senate must be in recess before a president can make a recess appointment. President Obama has made far fewer recess appointments than either of his two predecessors. So, there’s nothing even remotely “unprecedented” or “unconstitutional” about President Obama’s actions and saying so is a joke—well, apparently, it’s actually just a routine Republican lie.

And that’s an example of why I have zero respect for those Republican politicians, pundits and preachers: They say bald-faced, outright lies and think no one will bother to check. It’s bad enough that they scream whenever anyone has the audacity to quote their own crazy words back at them verbatim, but to think we’ll also ignore historical facts that they lied about or distorted is far too contemptuous of mainstream Americans to let them get away with it.

Republican politicians, pundits and preachers are serious even when they spout utter nonsense, and that makes them and their party a huge joke. The sad and scary part is that we must take them seriously instead of laughing them out of office.

Maybe they’re not really such great comedians after all.

The Canada-cy announcement

This video is a joke. I shouldn’t have to say that, but some Americans don’t seem to get humour that pokes at them. Or, maybe they don’t choose to. In any case, I feel I need to point that out because one never knows who will find a post through a search. For the record, this video also takes a fair few swipes at Canada, too.

This video is a satirical look at the upcoming US elections and offers an alternative option: Let Canada run the US: “Canada Party. America, but better.” I thought it was really funny, because of the fun it pokes at both countries.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Nor long remembered

A couple days ago, I had one of those Internet spirals: I went looking for one thing, which led me to another and on to another and—well, you know that goes: Too much time sucked into the Intertubes.

In this case, I was looking at the history of the town where I was born. That got me thinking about the larger issue of personal history and what we leave behind.

I was looking at big, beautiful Victorian houses that are now are gone, that led me to a couple other places until I ended up searching newspaper archives held by the local museum. I found that there were stories about my parents, one where my sister was mentioned and one where I was. These weren’t the stories themselves, just the catalogue numbers one could use to possibly order the photos for re-use in some way. It was all a bit vague.

All of that got me to thinking about what traces we leave behind. I don’t mean the specific things we leave behind—friends, family, maybe a tangible thing like a building, a business, whatever.

Instead, I’m talking about our broader stories. When I looked at those old houses, I was struck about how little they knew about them, and what wasn’t there: Who lived there? What were their stories?

It’s that way for most of us: Unless we’re famous or notorious, and sometimes even if we are, the harsh reality is that most people will never know anything about us. Here’s an example. During my years as a political activist, I did all sorts of things, engaged with all sorts of elected officials, but most of that work is stuff “the world will little note, nor long remember”. It doesn’t bother me that the things I did are unlikely to be even a footnote because I did it for the results, not the recognition. Besides, most of us are in basically the same situation with our life stories.

However, we bloggers have a great opportunity to document history and stories that would never be published normally, whether our own or those of others, and then to put them in a place where other people can find them. I think there are people who might like to know about some of those smaller stories, so I like seeing bloggers talk about such things.

I’ve already done some of that on this blog, and I’m going to continue doing it. That may even include documenting some of my activist past, something I’ve never really done before. If nothing else, I suppose it’ll give me some stuff to post about and, for a blogger, that’s reason enough, isn’t it?

Meme of the week: Birth Song

I don’t often to Internet memes, but this one was kind of fun. It goes like this:

1) Find the #1 single the week you were born.
2) Find it on YouTube.
3) Post without shame.

I actually quite like this song, so there’s certainly no shame involved—although the #1 song before this one was “The Chipmunk Song”, which might have given me some pause.

If you want to do the meme, my suggestion is to Google “number one pop songs month year”, changing the month and year to when you were born; that’s easier than searching for the specific week because pop charts may end on different dates.

Anyway, just a bit of fun for this summer day.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Readin’ and writin’ stuff

Summer is a time for kicking back and relaxing, and I’m no different. While I’ve done okay with publishing new posts on this blog so far (on day three of this new year), I bet there will inevitably be days when, for whatever reason, I just don’t have anything.

On such days, which are especially likely in summer, I’ll probably post YouTube videos or other links, as I’ve done in the past. This year, though, I also hope to write a few “evergreen” posts, ones with no time sensitivity at all that I can publish during my frequent busy times, or on those days when I’m just “not feeling it”. Roger Green recommended that idea to me.

I was thinking yesterday about one thing I simply don’t get: Folks who never interact with others on blogs, Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, places where I’ve commented on posts, but the person has never commented back, not to me or anyone else. What’s the point? A one-sided lecture may or may not be interesting, but it seems to me that the whole point of all this social media is that it’s social—people having conversations with each other, sharing ideas, information, etc.

We all get busy. I don’t always reply to comments on this blog, and I don’t know any blogger who responds all the time (those with huge numbers of comments obviously can’t reply much at all). On my podcast site, I almost never reply in writing to comments (I do that on the podcast itself). It’s not the frequency of the interaction I’m talking about, but the seeming disinterest in any interaction.

Does anybody else ever feel “what’s the point?” when they see a blogger, etc., who never responds? I promise that, this time at least, if you comment, I’ll reply.

As for reading, I really, really want to be a better reader this year, and actually finish a few books. I’ve already talked a few times about being a slow reader, but it doesn’t help that I simply don’t make the time for it.

And speaking of reading, check out my friend Tim Drake’s fairly new blog, TEDrake Book Blog, where he offers “mini-book reviews and recommendations”. I particularly like it because he reads and comments on books I’d probably never even hear of otherwise (personal favourites: The mini-reviews of books that pleasantly surprised him).

Pardon me for now. I’m off to read a chapter or two before bed.

First Marriage News Watch for 2012

Here’s the latest Marriage News Watch from Matt Baume, the first for 2012. Turns out, there’s already been a lot happening in the march toward marriage equality.

Monday, January 02, 2012

My political secret

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t actually dislike conservatives. In fact, in the specific, I get on quite well with conservative people. But when you talk about conservatives in the abstract, well, that’s when things get a little more complicated.

First complication: Are we talking USA or New Zealand? They’re very different. Similarly, voters and politicians are very different as well. This is why I try not to make blanket statements about “conservatives”, but instead try to be specific about what I’m talking about.

Take voters, for example. Conservative voters in the US confuse me. They must have huge cognitive dissonance to allow them to not only vote for politicians who will actively and openly work against their best interests, but to also think that sort of self-defeating voting is the right—even righteous—thing to do. Pretty weird, it seems to me. But, then, true conservative voters are a minority in the US—most are nearer the centre.

In New Zealand, only a handful of voters are dyed-in-the-wool (sometimes, it seems, literally…) conservative voters. Most New Zealanders who vote for conservative government are centrists simply voting for change. Then, when a conservative government goes to far—as they always do—Kiwis shift left. So, while I may disagree with their behaviour, there’s at least some level of rationality to their voting behaviour, unlike their conservative American cousins.

Conservative politicians in the two countries couldn’t be more different: Those in America are the champions of theocracy, oligarchy or both. In New Zealand, they tend mostly to champion the oligarchs, not all of whom in New Zealand are to be found among the super-rich. In NZ, the rest are just “go slow” advocates of little or no change (our only theocratic politicians are to be found outside of elective office, usually in pressure groups). I have little or no common ground with American conservative politicians, but there’s ample room for compromise with New Zealand’s elected conservative politicians. That’s probably the biggest difference of all.

So while US conservative politicians may rile me up (sometimes greatly), New Zealand’s conservatives more often than not just make me laugh at them (unless they’re really in a position of power, in which case they, too, can rile me up). What tends to make me laugh the most is the earnestness of their arrogant “born to rule” attitude—so many of them obviously truly believe that National is the “natural party of government”, the same as many Republicans in the US feel about their party. In both cases, it’s an unthinking, emotional response, largely irrational and completely uncritical (their party can never do anything wrong).

I’m fully aware that the centre-left can have politicians with the same hubris, but there’s one important difference between conservatives and liberals. Tell them they’re wrong, and they’ll both argue with you. But while the rightwinger will never back down, the true liberal will go away and think seriously about it all, wondering if, at least on some level, their critic may be right. I’ve yet to meet a partisan conservative who’s capable of that kind of introspection.

And that’s why I don’t dislike conservatives, elective or otherwise. Good liberal that I am, I always wonder if they might be right about something. So far, however, I’ve seldom found that to be the case.

But I guess that’s no secret, is it?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

An experiment

I’ve added a left-hand sidebar to this blog with “badges” for five of my main subject areas, using the labels (also known as tags) I’ve used to describe them: Life in NZ, New Zealand (which is general information), NZ Politics, Expat/Expatriate and US Politics. These badges do the same thing as choosing the label/tag from the drop-down list on my right-hand sidebar, but it only takes one click.

The idea is to make it easier and quicker for readers to get to some of my main subject areas, without having to wade through posts that don’t interest them. While there’s sometimes overlap (because most posts have multiple labels/tags), all posts with a certain label are at least loosely connected.

I originally came up this about the same time I considered spinning off US politics onto a separate blog. I realised that wasn’t the only subject area that didn’t necessarily fit well with others, and I thought maybe a visual badge for a subject area could help me get around that somewhat, making it easier for visitors to stick with the subjects they’re interested in.

Another idea I’d considered is putting the subject links on a separate page, but that would require readers to make at least two clicks. On the other hand, I could annotate those quick links to be more informative about what they are, something that’s difficult to do on sidebars without making it crowded and muddled. An advantage of the sidebar over a separate page is that sidebars appear no matter what page a reader is on, while a separate page is just that one page.

I’m going to leave the badges and left-hand sidebar throughout January as an experiment. If there are labels you think should be there, let me know in the comments to this post, or email me. Similarly, if you hate them, prefer the page idea or think the whole thing is unnecessary, feel free to tell me that, too.

At the moment, this is still just an experiment.

Surprise television

Our New Year’s Eve was surprisingly sedate: Homemade burgers on the barbecue, some drinks—and a long wait for midnight. Turns out, most of us were a bit dubious about the effort, but most of us persevered.

I don’t think I’ve ever missed a New Year’s Eve midnight since I was a kid and was first allowed to stay up. This year, our young nieces were being allowed to stay up and ring in the New Year, so it seemed especially important to make it all the way to midnight.

Most years, we’ve watched something local on television, usually something bad, in the lead-up to midnight. However, we were surprised to find that there was nothing on.

I must admit a bias: I grew up with a New Year’s Eve countdown on television as far back as I can remember, right up until I left the US. I know that they’re still being televised.

So imagine my surprise at the spotty track record of television in New Zealand: Some years nothing, other years really bad entertainment programmes. This year was a nothing year—in oh, so many ways…

Here’s a rundown of the free-to-air channels:

TV One, our most-watched free-to-air channel, showed a Dave Dobbyn fundraising concert held after a flood ravaged a town in 2005. After that, they showed the 1989 James Bond film, Licence to Kill. Yes, seriously.

TV2 showed Hairspray followed by Dreamgirls.

TV3 had the 3,869,485th showing of Apollo 13.

Prime is basically just Sky TV’s overflow channel, and really has no original programming (unless you count the news, which is part Australia’s Sky News, so I don’t). I don’t remember what was on Maori TV, but it didn’t sound relevant.

Sky TV’s pay channels were no better. The closest was some sort of video countdown on “MTV Classic” (so-named because it actually shows music videos; funny idea, that…), but we found it loud and unwatchable as well as automated.

So, we watched the last 1½ episodes in the Glee marathon on Sky’s “Vibe” channel (which shows reruns of shows that have already been on free-to-air channels). Then, we switched over to the TV One Dave Dobbyn concert for the last song. As the final credits rolled, our clocks already showed midnight, as did the Sky decoder.

A big “10” popped up on the screen, followed by the other numbers in order until “1” (and it seemed slightly faster than 10 seconds to me…). Then, the screen went black, with Licence to Kill starting immediately afterward. We turned the TV off.

Now obviously this isn’t a big drama, and if we’d bothered to check in advance, we’d have known there was nothing on and we could have organised our own countdown. It’s just that it was such a surprise—well, first, that there was really nothing on relating to New Year’s Eve, and second, that what they did have on was so lame. Live and learn, I guess.

We were all in bed by 12:19, hearing the sounds of other people’s parties nearby. By that point, I know I really didn’t care about that.

And that was our New Year’s Eve.

Happy 2012

It's now 2012 in New Zealand, so, Happy New Year!