Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Yesterday a coalition of rightwing religious groups launched a website to coordinate their campaign against the proposed law to establish marriage equality in New Zealand. Within 12 hours, the New Zealand Herald reported, it was gone.

That much is certain, but little else is. Unfortunately, that has already clouded the arguments made by the opponents of marriage equality.

According to the Herald, one of the main leaders of the anti-equality coalition, Bob McCoskrie, claimed that the attack was aimed specifically at their website, but took down others, too. He offered no evidence to support his claim. Instead, he said:
"You always hope you can have a robust debate about ideas, and show respect for each other but when you're trying to take out each other's website it kind of suggests that you're not going to get a good debate, so that's disappointing."
This is very unhelpful. Unless he has some proof that his adversaries are involved, or at least specific evidence that his site was the target, then he should refrain from defaming supporters of marriage equality by suggesting they are responsible for the attack on his site.

It’s ironic that Bob McCoskrie talks about showing respect for each other and then defames and slanders his opponents. I assume that he didn’t mean to also suggest that his side was trying to take down the sites of supporters of marriage equality; his wording was unfortunate.

No one should support censorship in a political debate, nor the suppression of arguments for or against a matter of public policy. Similarly, politically-motivated attacks on any website to suppress its speech and ideas, or to make it appear that is happening, are unconscionable and must be denounced. But in doing so, offering unsubstantiated smears against one’s opponents is no more acceptable, and completely unhelpful for robust fact-based debate.

Political debate should be better than that. I hope we may yet get better in this debate.

What SHE said

This video from Jackson Pearce says what I think about the chick-fil-a “controversy” in the US. She points out and skewers the blatant (and sickening) hypocrisy of “Christians” on the far right who use their religion to justify bigotry and hatred.

So, she proposes a way to put them to the test, to see if they really stand for “biblical principles”, by testing their adherence to Proverbs 25:41. I’d be curious to see what happens.

Below is her follow-up video, which further explains the issues involved and also deals to some of the reflexive comments she got from people who apparently didn’t watch or understand the first video. It, too, is a good video. In these two videos, she absolutely nails the arguments.

When I see things like this from straight allies, it gives me hope for the future. Younger people like her are far more caring and inclusive than are people in my own generation or older. Still, we, too, are far more human and humane than we’re given credit for, so I hope we see more straight allies of all ages speaking out for what’s right, standing up to the voices of bigotry and hatred.

Younger folks like Jackson Pearce set that bar pretty high. We should all try to rise to that level.

Monday, July 30, 2012

100 days

The Obama-Biden campaign has just released this video that points out there are 100 days until the November US elections and asks, “What will you do with them?” It’s a good question.

As an American citizen living overseas, there are limits to what I can do, but I’ll do what I can. Among other things, I’ll post what I can to this blog, including videos of ads, official ones from the campaign and the Democratic Party, as well as ads from outside groups, if I think they say something interesting. And, of course, I’ll also write about the campaign (probably a lot…).

It’s 100 days until November 6: “What will you do with them?”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Privacy concerns

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. It was about concern over photos someone else had posted to Facebook. Basically, the issue was that people shouldn’t post photos of other people without their permission. As out and loud as I may seem, I fully agree with that.

When I started this blog back in 2006, and my podcast six months later, I adopted a simple policy: I never talk about any of my friends or family by name without permission, and most of the time I don’t talk about them at all.

It’s true that some of the people in question wouldn’t mind if I did, but I respect their privacy and their right to determine how much they share with the world. None of that is up to me.

Some family and friends would be upset with me if I talked in detail about them by name on this blog or my podcast, in part because they consider it public (which it is), but many of those same people would think nothing of sharing the same sorts of information on Facebook because they perceive it as being basically private.

Yet Facebook isn’t private, unless users actively restricts access to what they post, including choosing who can see posts. I have no argument with people sharing things about their lives, including photos of themselves; in fact, I find it interesting. But I don’t think they should talk about others, and they certainly shouldn’t post photos, without permission.

My attitude is that of a middle-aged gay man who remembers clearly the dark days in which accidental “outing” could have had disastrous consequences. In some places, including much of the United States, it still could. So, why should anyone take any chances with the lives of their family and friends? Something may seem innocent—or even fun—to us, but someone else, an outsider, may see things completely differently.

News reports in the US sometimes talk about the dangers of posting drunken photos that a potential employer can later find. If we post such photos of others, we could harm them without ever meaning to. Even if photos of us aren’t bad, linking us to others in potentially embarrassing or compromising situations can still reflect on us.

When someone posts a photo of me on Facebook and “tags” me in it, I almost always remove the tag. I never post photos of friends or family unless they give me permission or they’re dead. Actually, that last part applies mostly to this blog: I stopped posting photos to Facebook awhile back when they changed their Terms and seemed to claim ownership of all images posted. I deleted every photo I’d posted (apart from a profile photo) and I just didn’t resume.

What I’m really arguing is that people should be able to make their own choices about what’s shared with the world, and that we shouldn’t make those choices for them. If we feel we simply must share a photo on Facebook so all our friends (including those we’ve never met) can “Like” it, then we should at the very least be careful, and we should realise that people depicted may not be happy about having that photo posted, for whatever reason.

It comes down to one word: Respect. Well, one other word, too: Courtesy. Come to think of it, if we all kept those two words in mind whenever we deal with others, then this world would be a better place for us all.

And you can quote me on that on your Facebook wall. You have my permission.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It’s about family

A video from the fight for marriage equality in Maine: "This isn't about politics—it's about family." I hope I typed that right—I seem to have something in my eye…

Friday, July 27, 2012

Consequences of marriage equality

Variations on this have been around for years, so I thought I'd make my own. I’ll probably do more as the campaign goes on. But for now, feel free to steal (though keeping the credit line would be nice…).

Clean your balls

This Australian-made cinema ad for Lynx Shower Gel has played recently in New Zealand. Said fellow American expat in New Zealand d (who is also a friend and who comments on this blog), from whom I stole this:
"This ad played in the theatre last night before Batman. It was… odd and hilarious. Can't imagine this ever being played in a US theatre!"
I can’t imagine it either, but the humour of Australians and New Zealanders is bawdier than in the US, and we’re more relaxed about racy subject matter (and nudity, though that’s another subject). It’s one of the things I most love about New Zealand’s culture.

This sort of broad humour makes me laugh, so I don’t mind posting a product commercial to my blog: Funny is funny. And, this is another example of how New Zealand is very different from the US.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The time has come

I’ve been writing about marriage equality for ages, and about its adoption in New Zealand with increasing frequency. We’re now—finally—at decision point.

Today, Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Private Member’s Bill to establish marriage equality (PDF here) was drawn in the ballot and will be introduced into Parliament. This will be huge.

Prime Minister John Key previously indicated that he would support such a bill to committee stage, but made no commitments beyond that. The NZ Labour Party, the official Opposition, will treat the matter as a conscience vote, however, the Green Party will vote as a bloc in favour of marriage equality.

National hasn’t yet announced what it will do, but odds are it will allow a conscience vote (to vote as a bloc against it would be a risky move as their unpopularity grows). The one MP of the Act “Party”, who has gained notoriety for his homophobia in the past, will almost certainly vote against it.

A “conscience vote”, called a “free vote” in other countries, means MPs are free to vote however they want to; normally, MPs have to vote as their party dictates. This is always done with “controversial” matters as a way of avoiding forcing MPs to vote against their deeply held personal beliefs.

So, conscience votes can be instructive about the true nature of MPs. There will be MPs in both Labour and National voting for marriage equality and against it. The list of Labour MPs voting against it will be short, I deeply hope, but I expect it to include Damien O’Connor and Ross Robertson, who both voted against Civil Unions.

On the National side, opponents will vastly outnumber supporters, but we know, for example, that Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye will vote for marriage equality—if she didn’t, she’d be booted out in the next election. But I expect National Party supporters will be rare.

I’d like to note that both Young National and Young Labour—the youth wings of their respective parties, and a starting point for future MPs—both support marriage equality. Maybe they can show the oldies a thing or two about the right thing to do, and even about working together for the good of us all. I hope they’re up to the challenge.

Much needs to happen between now and when the first vote is actually held (let alone the final vote). I’ll contact my own (National Party) Member of Parliament, and I will fully report on that on this blog. I have absolutely no idea where he stands or how he’ll vote. When I do, you will, too.

In the meantime, the fight is on, and I’ll have MUCH more to say about it!

Remember the NAMES

Do you know what the image above is? Clicking it to enlarge the image probably won't help. You may have seen part of what it depicts somewhere, but you’ve never seen the whole thing in real life, ever. This is a representation of the entire NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

The digital exhibit of the Quilt was created as a special project by Microsoft Research Connections, together with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, Brown University, University of Iowa, National Endowment for the Humanities and the NAMES Project Foundation. It is the only way to see the entire Quilt in one place.

The project was done because the Quilt is now so massive that it’s impossible to display in one place: It has some 50,000 panels and weights 54 tons (108,000 US pounds, which is roughly 49 tonnes, or 48,988kg). If it was all rolled out, the Quilt alone would cover some 1.3 million square feet—that’s nearly 30 acres (120,773.95 square metres, or 12.077395 hectares), and that’s not even counting the walkways (the Quilt was displayed with eight panels in a block, walkways between the blocks).

Of course, it’s possible to see the panels at the NAMES Project website, where it’s also searchable (although that function wasn’t working when I visited today, I have used it in the past to look at panels of friends). This project, however, provides another way to view it and to grasp its enormity—and the enormity of the loss.

According to Wired, where I saw this (h/t to Daniel Brewer who posted it to Google+), “it’ll take you well over a month to view the whole thing.” I found the site slow and difficult to navigate, and that’d be the only reason it would take that long. However, spending a little time viewing a little of the quilt is perfectly okay, of course, as is doing that by viewing parts in person when parts of it are on display. In fact, I encourage that.

But having the ability to see the entire quilt again is great in itself, especially because doing so in person is now impossible. To me, this virtual display is as powerful as the real thing precisely because doing that is impossible.

And it’s always good to remember those lost, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

B is for Joseph Banks

I’ll admit to being at a bit of a loss this week: What could I tell you about from this part of the world that begins with B? Then I decided to take a cue from Mr. Parrot and tell you about a person, and today that person is Joseph Banks.

Joseph Banks, that dashing fellow in the painting at left,  from 1773, is someone that most people from this part of the world have heard of, and are still influenced by him, whether they know it or not.

Banks accompanied James Cook as naturalist on Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771). They went to Brazil, where Banks “discovered” the now common garden plant, bougainvillea. They then sailed on to the South Pacific, where they were to witness the Transit of Venus (in Tahiti), the supposed purpose of the voyage (though it was supposedly more about asserting British sovereignty in the region, since France was sniffing around there, too).

They also explored the coast of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. Their ship was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef, so they spent around seven weeks near what is now Cookstown in Queensland while the ship was repaired.

Back in England, Banks became a champion of “transporation”, that is, shipping prisoners to Australia. He advocated Botony Bay (at modern-day Sydney) as the best spot for a penal colony. He maintained an active interest in the continent, sending plants there and having plants and animals collected for him.

He became president of the Royal Society, at the time the world’s most prestigious scientific organisation, and later also became head of the Royal Gardens at Kew, and sent explorers all over the world to collect specimens. He directly sponsored some voyages, such as that of George Vancouver to the Pacific Northwest of North America. He’s credited with helping to turn Kew into the world’s preeminent botanical collection.

Among other plants, he introduced the world to eucalyptus, acacia and mimosa. He also has a genus of the plant family Proteaceae named after him, Banksia, which is now a popular garden plant.

Banks Peninsula, part of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, is named after him, as is the Canberra, Australia suburb of Banks, the Sydney suburbs of Bankstown, Banksia and Banksmeadow, and Banks Island in Canada.

So, Joseph Banks was a big deal in his day, and in many ways, he still is.

The image accompanying this post is a public domain photo of a painting of Joseph Banks in 1773, available from Wikipedia.

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The two Londons

Just in time for the start of the Olympic Games, my favourite YouTube explainer, C.G.P. Grey tells us the tale of the two Londons. It’s as interesting as I’ve come to expect from him.

And, after all the heavy topics today, something a little lighter seemed in order.

Sally Ride

Like many people, I was shocked to hear that Sally Ride, the first American woman sent into space, had died. She’d kept her cancer secret, so of course there was no reason for most of us to expect her death.

That first shock was followed immediately by another: Learning that she was lesbian.

I well remember when Sally first went into space in 1983. The fact that this was some two decades after the Soviet Union sent the first woman into space didn’t diminish the importance of her trip. The fact that she’d finally broken NASA’s glass ceiling gave hope not just to women and girls, but also to me. As a young gay man, I, too, took inspiration from her, and thought that if she could smash the barriers that held her back because of who she was, maybe there might be hope for someone like me. I can’t have been the only person who thought like that.

Sally went into space again in 1984, also aboard the space shuttle Challenger, but her third trip in 1986 was cancelled when Challenger exploded. She was on the commission that investigated that disaster, and also the 2003 Columbia disaster—the only person to serve on both panels.

Since her first historic flight, 42 women have followed her. As far as we know, she was the only GLBT person ever sent into space by any country—only we didn’t know that at the time, or while she was alive.

Her sister Bear told BuzzFeed that she hoped the GLBT communities would now see her as an advocate, and one day they probably will: Kids will learn of her, and young gay kids will learn that a gay person was a hero, and they may even think that they might also be a hero one day, too.

For us older folk, however, it’s a little more complicated. For me, I have and always will respect and admire her for breaking that barrier to women. But the fact that she kept the reality of her life a secret until her death means that she’s hardly a hero or role model on that, except insofar as she survived all the forces that tried to suppress her, as happened to nearly all of us older GLBT folk.

History is a great finisher, sanding out the rough spots, grinding down the sharp edges. Sally’s achievement will continue to resonate, and one day her being lesbian will be seen as just another good thing about her. I just wish we’d known about it sooner, so it could have done good sooner.

Still, nothing can change or diminish what she accomplished, nor the potential that she unleashed, and that’s what I’ll remember

A party fades slowly

This morning, and on Sunday, I mentioned Eric Cantor’s phony call for tolerance in his party. While I’m certain he was being insincere, I haven’t said what I thought he was actually up to, and that’s one word: Survival.

The Republican Party, with its rigidly ideological rightwing focus, is completely out of touch with the values of mainstream Americans. Most Americans support abortion, at least in some circumstances, and they absolutely support the right to birth control. Most Americans support legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and a majority back marriage equality. A majority of Americans even support restrictions on automatic weapons. Yet the Republican Party takes a position opposite to mainstream America on all these issues.

It’s not surprising that they should be out of touch: Consider who they have to work with:

The 2010 elections brought in a horde of new Congress Critters who were not in any way “traditional Republicans”, nor the group the far right hates the most, “Establishment Republicans.” Instead, they were hard right ideologues who pledged to put ideology ahead of everything else: No tax hikes ever, no matter how valid the reason or how dire the national emergency; no compromise with Democrats on anything, ever; steadfast resolve to outlaw abortion, birth control and marriage equality; promotion of policies that favour corporations and the “one percent”—and they do all that even—sometimes especially, it seems—when it’s against the best interests of the country, of democracy and certainly their own party. They could be replaced with machines and no one would notice.

The consequences of this rigid orthodoxy is that the party is dying: The average Republican voter is increasingly older, even elderly, and white. Republicans can’t connect with young voters, Black or Hispanic voters, it has problems reaching women and actively rejects GLBT voters. They’re so busy excluding parts of America that they forgot they actually need to include some voters.

And that’s what Eric Cantor’s PR stunt was all about: Trying to rescue the party before it slips completely into irrelevance and oblivion, as it is on track to do. If that seems far-fetched, consider the decline of the Republican Party in just one state, California.

California is by far the most populated state in the US, and by itself has twenty percent of the votes in the Electoral College, which determines who is elected president. The state that was home to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan doesn’t have a single Republican statewide elected official. The party now has only 30% of registered voters, compared to 41% for Democrats and 21% for independents. Within roughly six years, Republicans will be third, behind Democrats and independents.

This happened because the California Republican Party has become fixated on rigid ideological orthodoxy, becoming far too extreme for mainstream California voters, while trying to expel heretics within its own ranks. They nominate extremists for statewide office who then go down to screaming defeat.

Mainstream California voters have nothing in common with a national party dominated by Southern social conservatives, nor with a state party that refuses to acknowledge the importance of Latino voters.

Their state party leaders think that the state’s economic woes will mean voters will inevitably turn to them. That’s wishful thinking. They remain extremist compared to mainstream voters, and their rift with Latino voters is probably unbridgeable.

Eric Cantor knows all this, and that the same problems are repeated throughout the country. So, he and his media advisors think that if they can say the right words, make the right noises about tolerance, they can fool voters into supporting them.

Voters aren’t stupid. They know that a pig in a tuxedo is still a pig, and a Republican putting on a suit of tolerance is still a Republican.

And that’s why Eric Cantor was trying to fool American voters that the party might become more tolerant. However, neither he nor his party can fight the effects of demographics, a problem they face because of the way the party is, not simply how it appears.

The intolerant attacking the insincere

This past weekend, I posted another of my Internet Wading posts, and the second item mentioned US House of Representatives Republican Leader Eric Cantor calling for more tolerance in his party, particularly for Muslims and gay people. To put it nicely, I obviously didn’t believe him.

Cantor’s insincere sermon was published on July 19 (US time) and the very next day, the “Family” Research [sic] Council, one of the leaders of the anti-gay industry, and one of the country’s most powerful anti-gay hate groups, attacked Cantor’s call for tolerance (source: http://tinyurl.com/dynb8gp).

They began by lying about Michele Bachmann’s bizarre, dangerous attack on a prominent Muslim American, before getting to what really got their knickers in a twist: Tolerance of gay people:
“…tolerance should not mean acceptance. The ‘politically correct tolerance’ attitude that is followed by to [sic] many in our establishment society allows for embracing of individuals who attack Christians with vile and, in the case of the left’s poster boy for tolerance Dan Savage, with literal spit and bile. This same tolerance then seeks to demonize those who embrace that marriage is between one man and one woman—such as the attacks on [a fastfood chicken chain] President Dan Cathy.”
I think it’s safe to say that the US anti-gay industry hates Dan Savage more than any other gay person in the country. While Savage’s rhetoric is sometimes ill-advised, which is what the radical right tries to focus everyone’s attention on, in the main he is relentless in an articulate, fact-based, reason-infused debunking of rightwing bullshit. He dares to stand up to their hatred, and does so far more eloquently than any of them can manage, so they hate him: He could help rational and reasonable mainstream Americans see how irrational and unreasonable the radical right anti-gay industry is, and they fear the effect that would have on their power—and their bank balances, of course.

The chicken shack thing is another matter entirely, and of course, hypocrites that they are, they ignore their own behaviour: THEY demonise anyone who supports marriage equality—how many companies are they boycotting now? I’ve lost count, but it includes Starbucks, General Mills, Google, Oreo cookies, Microsoft, etc., etc., etc. When their side does it, it’s standing up for principle, but when our side does it, we’re “demonising”.

The spokesbigot continued:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lies and statistics

There’s one complaint I make about the newsmedia over and over again, and for good reason: They never get any better. That complaint is about their habit of routinely publishing stories about a “survey” or a “study” without providing any information about the methodology, which would enable us to decided if there’s any validity to the information being provided.

Sometimes this is about important stuff—electoral races, public attitudes about an issue, or even just information that helps us to better understand the people around us.

And then sometimes the studies/surveys are about things of no real importance whatsoever: Today Stuff reported on the “most trusted” bands in New Zealand, as reported by Reader’s Digest. Said Stuff: “Over 1200 people voted in the online survey.”

That “online survey” part should raise red flags, since such surveys are so often—or even almost always—utter rubbish. In this case, we’re told nothing further.

Comment number 20 to the story, from someone named Duncan Stuart, hits all the main points I say whenever I encounter a survey that makes me raise an eyebrow, and it’s nice to read someone else calling for transparency:
What was the methodology of this survey? Were these 1200 randomly selected [respondents]? Did they rate each and every brand on the list? What was the rating scale and what did it take to be a winner? Sorry to be pedantic, but a survey like this could be a rather meaningless beauty pageant—for example in a field of 15 names the winner might be the one that gets a paltry 10% of the vote—slightly more than the runner up perhaps, but hardly a ringing endorsement.

This might be a cracker survey, but who can really tell? Readers Digest needs to be more transparent about method. After all, the winner in 2009 was Cadbury and we all saw how truly fragile their leadership really was. So it begs the question: how meaningful is this kind of survey?

As a market researcher, I'm expected to explain methodology as a routine part of delivering any data. This is so you can judge not just the raw results, but the fairness of the method.
Where I disagree with the commenter is that it isn’t the job of Reader’s Digest alone to be more transparent. Rather, the newsmedia also has an obligation to take seriously only those surveys that do supply complete methodology and to ignore those that don’t. No advertiser would get away with publishing an ad with “survey” results that were false or misleading, so why should the news pages get away with it? It’s a journalist’s job to verify, not just report.

So, without further information, I take “the nuclear option” and dismiss this survey as utter rubbish. Nevertheless, I’d probably put Whittaker’s at the top, too.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend Distraction: Tom Robinson Band

I first heard of Tom Robinson Band when I was newly out. I was given their second album, TRB Two, by a friend who didn’t like it. The album was a failure, and the truth is, I don’t remember listening to it at the time.

Years later, I heard what is probably his best-known song, "Glad To Be Gay" (video above, recorded live in Manchester and broadcast in November, 1977). It was originally written for London’s Gay Pride in 1976, and the lyrics reflected that time. From the Wikipedia article on the song:
"Glad to Be Gay" is built around four verses criticizing British society's attitudes towards gay people. In the first verse, it criticizes the British police for raiding gay pubs for no reason at all, once homosexuality had been decriminalized since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

In the second verse, it points out to the hypocrisy of Gay News being prosecuted for obscenity instead of porn magazines like magazines Playboy and notoriously homophobic sensationalist tabloid The Sun. It also criticizes the way homosexual people are portrayed in other parts of the press, especially in conservative newspapers News of the World and Sunday Express.

On the third verse, it points out the extreme consequences of homophobia, such as violence against LGBT people.

In the final verse, the song makes a plea for support of the gay cause. This part, originally intended as a bitter attack on complacency of gay people at the Pride march in 1976, became a rallying call for solidarity from people irrespective of their orientation.
Over the years, verses were changed, added, dropped, depending on the point he wanted to make.

In 1979, Robinson performed the song at “The Secret Policeman’s Ball”, a benefit for Amnesty International (there’s a YouTube video of it). Again from the Wikipedia article:
“[Robinson] reinstated a verse about Peter Wells not used since the original demo. Wells was a young man who had been imprisoned for sex with an 18-year-old man. Had his partner been a woman it would have been legal, but the gay age of consent was 21 as opposed to 16 for heterosexuals. Robinson sang this pointedly, as Amnesty were refusing to acknowledge gay prisoners as human rights cases.”
That has changed over the years, and Amnesty now considers violations of LGBT people’s human rights, too.

In the mid-1980s, Robinson fell in love with a woman he eventually married and with whom he had two children. That caused him to add a verse about bisexuality in 1996:
"For 21 years now, I’ve fought for the right, for people to love just whoever they like. But the right-on and righteous are out for my blood, now I live with my kids and a woman I love. Well if gay liberation means freedom for all, a label is no liberation at all. I'm here and I'm queer and do what I do, I'm not going to wear a straitjacket for you."
Bisexuality is, ironically, something about which many gay people agree with the anti-gay industry, believing bisexuals are “gay people who won’t admit it”, or that “they want it both ways”. The truth is far more complicated than simplistic slogans—isn’t it always?—and human sexuality is not binary, and it's not either/or, but far more fluid. The more-or-less radical British gay activist Peter Tatchell said after a superficial article on Robinson’s bisexuality was published, "Tom Robinson has behaved rather commendably, in my view. Ever since the beginning of his relationship with Sue [his wife], he has continued to describe himself as ‘a gay man who happens to be in love with a woman’. Who could quarrel with that? I can't."

The song in the video below, "2-4-6-8 Motorway", was also popular—and the first song of his I heard. The song is said to allude obliquely to a gay truck driver, though I don’t get that, personally.

Robinson, who is now 62, seldom performs in concert, but remains one of the founders of openly gay and queer pop music, and I think it’s important to remember our history.

Still more July Internet wading

Some of what caught my eye this week…

Just when you thought every loony Republican idea was already on the table, along comes US Representative Darrell Issa of California who wants to rename the ocean after Ronald Reagan. Well, not exactly: He wants to name the USA’s claimed “Exclusive Economic Zone”, which ranges from 3 to 200 miles from the US shores, as “the Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone.” Quite understandably, a lot of people not only think this idea is daft on its own, they also see it as weird: Modern day Republicans, while worshiping at the shrine of Reagan, nevertheless ignore everything he did and stood for. Commented The Daily Kos: “it turns out that while they now hate most of what [Reagan] said and did, they still like putting his name on things. So he's a lot like Jesus in that way. Or would be, if Jesus hated unions and the environment and said things like "bring all of the offshore oil within two hundred miles of here unto me, because I hath called dibs upon it."

Eric Cantor, Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives, urged tolerance of gay people and Muslims. Uh huh. “I think an even bigger issue… from a cultural standpoint, is the acceptance of diversity. And the acceptance of diversity of opinion,” he said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “And it’s that tolerance, I think that that tolerance is something that enables people to be passionate about their positions. And if you’re for gay marriage, this country allows you to express your views. Some states support it and allow it, and others don’t. But its ok to have that difference of opinion in that.” This from the man who has the job of moving Republicans’ laser-like focus on jobs, jobs, jobs—by which I mean outlawing abortion and birth control—as well as promoting the rest of their radically conservative agenda. I’ll believe they’ve discovered tolerance of dissent within their party once they start practicing it.

No porn for you people! A former Republican official from the justice departments of Reagan and Bush the First, a man who is now head of a extreme rightwing “morals” group, claims that Mitt Romney has promised “to vigorously enforce federal adult obscenity laws.” (Source: http://tinyurl.com/d88nejc) Apparently, this means censoring the Internet, since US-based websites could easily relocate overseas. And since that’s impossible, a crackdown on porn is most likely just the morals guy’s own pornographic fantasy.

Speaking of feeling the earth move, this week the Central North Island’s Tongariro volcano's alert level was raised from zero to 1, after more than 20 earthquakes were detected under the volcano since July 20 (the normal amount is two per year). This does not mean an eruption is imminent, nor even necessarily that the volcano is “waking up”. Unless it does mean that, of course. We’ll see. But the siren alert system in Christchurch, designed to warn coastal residents of an impending tsunami has left locals unimpressed.

And that’s another small sample of what caught my eye over one week.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mitt Gets Worse

This video is part of the “Mitt Gets Worse” campaign, pointing out the danger of Mitt Romney in the White House. From the clip description of this video:
Julie Goodridge was a lead plaintiff in Goodridge v. Dept of Public Healththe lawsuit that brought same-sex marriage to Massachusetts. In this video, Goodridge shares her family's encounters with Gov. Mitt Romney, including a meeting with Romney, which Goodridge describes as "the most frustrating experience in the entire marriage case."
As I post this, there are 11 videos on the Mitt Gets Worse YouTube Channel. I’ll no doubt post more of these videos in the future.

Standing up to dangerous stupidity

In the video above, US Senator John McCain calls out the sheer lunacy of Michele Bachmann, one of the looniest Republicans in the US House of Representatives. Quaint Congressional customs dictate that he can’t name her, but it’s who he’s taking down.

McCain was absolutely right to do this, and it’s not the first time that Statesman McCain has been seen: He told one of his crazy supporters that then-candidate Obama was not an “Arab”, even thought the frothing knuckle-draggers who so loved Palin didn’t want to hear that or have their racism challenged. Had THIS John McCain been the one that ran for president in 2008, the race would have been closer. Well, that, and if they hadn’t put that moron Palin on the ticket.

This is all about Bachmann. The fact that her tinfoil hat wearing lunacy makes her among the craziest Republicans in Congress is saying something: She has plenty of competition for the title of most batshit crazy Republican.

Mainstream Republicans are piling on Bachmann, as well they should. The House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, said, "accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous." Her former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, said Bachmann’s stupid allegations were “extreme and dishonest”, before piling it on:
"…you know better. Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working, loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges. As a devoted Christian, you need to ask forgiveness for this grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior."
Bachman really is completely batshit crazy. Right Wing Watch has listed a sort of "greatest hits" of Bachmann crazy—literally, by the way—conspiracy theories. So, she has a history of saying stupid and wrong things.

This time, I think she’s veered close to treason because her idiotic remarks put Secretary of State Clinton at risk. The woman is a disgrace to the United States Congress. Prominent Republicans who have condemned her have done the right thing, but it’s far from enough.

The Republican leadership of the House must strip her of all responsible committee memberships (why in hell she’s a member of the House Intelligence Committee—an attribute she so clearly lacks—is beyond me). Bachmann is clearly dangerous. It must be abundantly clear to America’s friends and foes alike that no one, least of all the United States Congress, takes her or her loony ideas seriously, and she must not be given any veneer of respectability.

One day, her constituents will finally get sick of having the craziest Member of Congress and boot her out. Until that happens, she must be shunted to the extreme sidelines from which she can do no real damage.

Auckland’s North Wharf

On Tuesday I attended the Adobe Creative Suite Roadshow at the Viaduct Events Centre, the first time I’d ever been there. I had an intensely negative reaction to the Roadshow itself, but also to the area. The venue has, as I said a few days ago, “some big shortcomings—one-person wide escalators that were hopeless when everyone was moving at once.” But the area wasn’t good, either.

I said in my previous post, “The area was called North Wharf (which made me wonder where “South Wharf” is—there isn’t one, by the way), and was a barren, empty windswept theme park interpretation of a waterfront—but I’ll elaborate on that in another post.” This is that post.

The photo above is of North Wharf, looking toward the “tank farm”. The tank farm is slowly being removed and the area will be redeveloped. This particular area was redone in time for the Rugby World Cup.

I found it incredibly sterile and fake, a theme park version of what a working waterfront might look like. The low buildings on the left side of the photo were all built to resemble waterfront warehouses, complete with fake distressing to make them seem more “real”. They were all were restaurant/café/bar facilities, and basically barns: Cavernous, cold—and empty. They all had very few people in them (sometimes staff outnumbered customers) at noon. The photos with this post were all taken at about 12:45pm—the height of the lunch rush—and there was hardly anyone around.

This area may become busier as construction of office buildings are completed. But for the area to be a real, vibrant area of the city, they really need to tone down the phony ship-chic theme park decoration. The next photo below, taken from the same spot as above but moved slightly to the right, shows some more of the phony props (the Auckland Harbour Bridge is in the background).

On the other hand, there are ways to pay homage to the area’s heritage without degenerating into kitsch. For example, the info centre (the photo at the bottom of the post) is made from used shipping containers. The back of the one at ground level on the left side of the photo even contains public toilets.

There’s also integration of newer technologies. Stops around the wharf have signs with QR codes so visitors with smartphones can look up the area’s history. I didn’t try this—I was in too bad a mood because of the Roadshow at this point, but when I go back in warmer weather, I will.

These two things—integrating newer technology and sensible references to the area’s past—point to the way forward. The area is basically a construction zone, transitioning from its tourist-centred kitsch to its future as a vibrant part of the city. Much as this area left me cold, literally and figuratively, I’m very interested to see how it evolves.

It could be really good.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A is for Aotearoa

If you were to pick only one A word relevant to New Zealand, it would have to be Aotearoa. Quite what it means, and how it came to be the Māori name for New Zealand, are unclear. But that situation’s not unique to New Zealand.

The word Aotearoa (pronounced in English something like OW-tay-eh-ROW-uh, with a lightly rolled R) is generally translated as “Land of the long white cloud”, though it could be translated differently, too. In a sense, the other possible meanings don’t matter because this is now the accepted meaning.

However, it’s only in relatively recent times that the name became the alternate name for the country. As late as 1893, Aotearoa was used by some Māori to refer to the North Island only, and Waipounamu (why-poh-NAH-moo) referred to the South Island. By 1898, however, Aotearoa was beginning to be used to apply to the entire country. It didn’t start to become common until well into the 20th Century.

Now, however, it’s very common for people to say “Aotearoa”, though this is most common among younger people. Use of the word has probably picked up in recent years since the singing of the national anthem was changed to sing it first in Māori, then in English.

Some people refer to “Aotearoa-New Zealand”, and if I was to bet, it’d be that this will become the name of New Zealand one day. If nothing else, it would mean our athletes wouldn’t have to wait as long to march into the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games.

It may seem odd that so little is known of how the name Aotearoa came to be, or what it means. But considering how long ago it was coined (centuries), it’s not that surprising, really. And, anyway, there’s a lot of confusion about how America came to be the name for certain landmasses in the Western Hemisphere, so confusion over Aotearoa isn’t unique.

What’s even more odd to people is that the two main islands of New Zealand are called North Island and South Island, though always referred to as the North Island and the South Island. They do have Māori names: The North Island is Te Ika a Māui (teh icka ah mahwi, meaning The Fish of Māui), and the South Island is Te Wai Pounamu (teh why poh-NAH-moo, The Waters of Greenstone). The Māori names are never used, however, a few years ago it was proposed that these names be officially adopted, though nothing ever came of it and the islands still, technically, have no name.

Here’s a bit of local knowledge: One never says, “Auckland is a city on the North Island”. Instead, it is always in, so it would be “Auckland is a city in the North Island.” Same for the South Island. No one has ever been able to explain to me why this is the case.

And that’s a bit about Aotearoa.

The image acommpanying this post shows New Zealand on December 27, 2004, and is from NASA's Visible Earth team.

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!

Roadshow lessons

Yesterday I went to the latest Adobe Creative Suite Roadshow in Auckland, and I learned a lot, but probably nothing that Adobe intended: I learned to listen more closely so myself, about the graphic design industry in New Zealand, and even something about an area of Auckland I hadn’t been to before. But those lessons were not always positive, and my feelings about the Roadshow certainly aren’t.

The last Roadshow I attended was two years ago, when Creative Suite 5 was released, and I wrote at the time:
The event itself left me completely underwhelmed, even if the software itself has some attractive features. I doubt I’ll attend another.
I should’ve listened to myself. Two years ago I also wrote, “I seriously thought about flagging the rest of the day—the morning had been such a waste.” That feeling was repeated this time and, in fact, I did leave early, though not until the afternoon break.

It wasn’t all awful: This time, unlike two years ago, Adobe provided tea and coffee during the breaks—along with cookies and fruit. Much better. They also mentioned iPads and iPhones this time, apparently having gotten over their hissy fit with Apple over that company’s refusal to integrate Adobe’s Flash into iOS devices (customer needs rightly trumped the company’s hurt feelings, although apparently only grudgingly). They also talked about Android, too, of course.

However, there were again only four exhibitors, including Wacom (which, as far as I know, has been at all of these Roadshows), which was exhibiting giant tablets—bigger than many people’s monitors, and costing as much as a car. There was no benefit to me in those exhibitors being there, and I suspect that was true for most of the attendees. The cheap Adobe bags (same as previous two Roadshows) contained two product fliers for companies who were not at the Roadshow. There hasn’t been any “swag” given away for many, many years. There was still no schedule, but this time they posted it only—and had more professional looking posters stuck to the wall.

This time, instead of massively long sessions for all their software, Adobe introduced “breakout sessions”. In the morning, the two were on interactive design for web and various e-documents, the other was on video. I don’t do web or video, but chose the latter because I know nothing at all about their video software, even though I have it (more about that later). It was mildly interesting, but, probably obviously, not very useful. I could have gotten as much from online videos.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I’m part of a new podcast

I’m the co-host of a brand-new podcast, Arthur and Paul Talk, and first episode is now posted. It’s just me and Paul (of Paul’s Podcast) chit-chatting about stuff. He was one of my main influences when I started the AmeriNZ Podcast back in March, 2007 (some six months after I started this blog).

Since then, I also started 2Political Podcast with my friend Jason. Both AmeriNZ and 2Political Podcasts will continue as before. I have the most recent episodes of both those podcasts listed on the right side of this blog, and eventually I’ll add Arthur and Paul Talk, too—but there’s only the one episode so far, so… well, my general laziness isn’t a big issue right now. However, I’ve added it to my “Parade of Podcasts” on my Links Page.

These podcasts also don’t affect this blog, which will continue as before because I love this medium, and the written word. I’ll occasionally mention blog posts on one of these podcasts, as I do now, and I may mention a podcast episode here, but that will continue to be pretty rare.

And one final word, it wasn’t my ego that has me listed first (no, really!). Instead, it’s that my name comes first alphabetically and that means we’ll be listed higher in alphabetical lists of podcasts. Well, it’s as good and explanation as any.

The new podcast will be posted roughly once per week.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Weekend Distraction: Zed

As part of my ABC Wednesday post for Z last week, I mentioned in passing, “Zed is also the name of a New Zealand pop-rock band that was active 1998-2005.” I thought that I’d expand on that for a Weekend Distraction.

The band was formed when the members were students at Cashmere High School in Christchurch, and had six hits from their debut album, Silencer, including “Renegade Fighter” (excerpt live video on YouTube). It reached number four on the NZ charts and was the number one song in New Zealand in 2000. Their first hit from the album was a song called “Glorifilia”, and the final single from the album was “Driver’s Side” (video above), but it only reached number 36 on the chart. I thought "Driver's Side" was a better song overall, and that "Glorifilia" was a bit silly (which is why the video of the former is here, not the latter).

Their second album was called The Little Empire and marked a shift to a more pop-oriented sound. It had their last top ten hit in New Zealand, “Hard To Find Her” (video below), which is very different from their earlier songs. Nevertheless, I liked this song (though I only bought the CD single because it was in the closeout bin at The Warehouse, where most Kiwis bought music in those pre-iTunes days). Their last charted song was “She Glows”, but it only reached number 21. The final song from the album was “Firefly”, and it didn’t chart at all.

Zed basically broke up in 2005, though they’ve reunited for a couple performances. The members are now pursuing other projects.

Zed was one of a number of pop music groups that have popped up and disappeared since I’ve lived in New Zealand, and that means that I have more and more cultural history in common with people born here. I like that.

Slight commenting change

As longtime readers may remember, and all readers will have noticed, some time ago I turned off word verification for comments on this blog. I did it because of requests from some of my fellow ABC Wednesday bloggers, but I have to admit, it’s much easier to leave comments without word verification.

This has NOT resulted in a dramatic increase in spam comments posted: In fact, it’s always been pretty rare for spam comments to ever get through. However, when I turned off word verification, I saw an absolute explosion in the number of notification emails I received, telling me a comment needed moderation when, in fact, it was shunted to the spam queue. I have no idea why that would happen.

In the past day or so, the number of emails suddenly dropped: One email a day this weekend, rather than the one or two dozen I often get. If the email volume goes back up, I plan to turn off email notifications altogether. That means people posting legitimate comments to older posts may not see their comment appear for days, because I sometimes go days without checking my comment queue. The alternative was to turn word verification back on, and no one wants that, including me.

Hardly anyone comments on old posts, so this change will affect very few people in any given year, but I like to be as transparent as possible about what I’m doing and why. All things considered, turning off word verification was a great improvement.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

That Gotye earworm

An earworm is a catchy song or tune that gets stuck in our minds and runs continually. Sometimes it seems we can’t get away from it. We may or may not like the song, or we may move from one point of view to the other as the earworm wriggles, but even if we hate a song, we can’t help being sucked it. Such is the power of an earworm.

The viral video above illustrates this. The two guys hate Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, but they can’t help singing along. The fact that they don’t know all the words, but are compelled to sing it anyway, makes the video even more fun—and accurate. So, too, is the fact that they actually do like a remix of the song. I’ve had all of that happen to me.

There have been numerous parodies of the original video, some of which have been very funny. None of the parodies would have been made if the song weren’t an earworm.

As an aside, iTunes New Zealand offered the song as a Free Video of the Week exactly a year ago, and I downloaded it. I never actually watched it until it was already a hit. Many of iTunes NZ’s free videos were really interesting, even if the genre wasn’t necessarily something I’d normally be interested in. Sometimes I even found music that I liked, though I’d never have known about it otherwise. So, I was extrememly disappointed when iTunes NZ stopped offering free videos of the week a couple months ago (they still offer a free Song of the Week, and I almost always download those, and sometimes I even like them).

So, this is a viral video about an earworm. Does that make this an eyeworm? Ew.

About ABC Wednesday

Way back in January, I started taking part in ABC Wednesday, a project in which bloggers around the world post about a topic beginning with a letter of the alphabet, starting with A and going through to Z, one letter per week.

Participants often post on Wednesday in their timezone, but not all do: Folks post during that week when it’s convenient for them to do so. There’s no “penalty” for missing a week—sometimes life intervenes, after all. For example, I missed the letter L because that week was particularly busy for me.

One expectation of participants is that they’ll visit the posts of other participants and leave comments. They ask that you visit five participants’ posts and leave a comment. Overall, many of the comments people leave are brief; sometimes they’re more involved and part of a conversation, but most aren’t. I don’t mind receiving short comments: To me they’re kind of like the old days when people left calling cards when stopping by for a visit.

I try to visit at least a dozen posts every week, though I don’t leave a comment on all of them. Sometimes I’m really busy and don’t have time to visit a lot of posts, so those weeks I concentrate on visiting the posts of folks who took the time to comment on my post. There have been a few weeks, however, when I couldn’t even manage that. It’s not the end of the world.

I’ve always written about whatever interests me at the moment, but the challenge of finding a topic starting with a particular letter is interesting to me. Still, knowing what letters are coming up means it’s possible to prepare posts well in advance, and some participants do that. I often start posts well in advance, but this round I started five different posts that I ended up not finishing or using because I chose another topic instead, usually at the last minute. Pretty much like my normal blogging, in other words.

I encourage bloggers to take part in ABC Wednesday: It’s a fun thing to be part of, and this round is being—what’s the word? Curated?—by my Blogging Buddy™ Roger Green. Another reason to take part!

This round, in addition to tagging posts ABC Wednesday, I’ll also tag them ABCW Round 11, for anyone who want to see what I posted in this round only. I also added a new tag, ABCW Round 10, for all the posts from the round just completed.

I have my topic for A in Round 11 next week already picked out. Beyond that, who knows? Let's just see what happens.

More July Internet wading

Here are few more things on the Internet that caught my eye over the past week:

Bishops in the USA’s Episcopal Church have approved a measure to form a liturgy to bless the unions of same-sex couples. This isn’t actually performing same-sex marriages, apparently, but progress nonetheless. It comes after the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly narrowly (338 to 308) rejected a proposal to define marriage as a union between "two people" (rather than only a man and a woman).

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Anglican Church branch, meeting in its General Synod, was faced with considering whether to bless same-sex unions and ordain gay and lesbian priests. However, on Wednesday NZ’s Anglican Archibishop, David Moxon, declared that nothing will happen on these issues until an official report is submitted—in 2014. NZ’s Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church are both part of the “Anglican Communion,” the worldwide church based in England, which is the face of rising conservative church in Africa opposes the UK’s enacting marriage equality.

On the secular front, 132 Members of the US House of Representatives filed an amicus brief against the constitutionality of the USA’s “Defense” of Marriage Act (DOMA). The brief makes clear that the Republican-controlled “Bipartisan” Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the US House does not speak for all Members.

Well, what do you know? It turns out that the centre-left in the USA opposes the “Trans Pacific Partnership” trade deal for the same reason Kiwis and Aussies on the centre-left do: The loss of national sovereignty to shadowy extra-national “courts” to be created to adjudicate corporations’ claims of having been wronged, even when the complaint is based on a corporation not liking a country’s laws. In New Zealand, the super-secret agreement is being opposed by everyone from Tech firms to pork producers. That last one kind of puts a new spin on “capitalist pigs”, eh?

All of which may help explain why Robert Cruickshank risks breaking Godwin’s Law to suggest on AlterNet that the USA is following in the footsteps of Wiemar Germany: “Four Major Ways We're Following In Germany's Fascist Footsteps”.

Ah, but there’s always rugby to brighten things! Well, maybe not. While many Kiwis apparently have an opinion on Sonny Bill Williams’ decision to abandon New Zealand and rugby, TV One’s Peter Williams was perhaps more strident than most. Personally, I don’t care about SBW leaving, but I certainly don’t believe him, that it was about “honour” and some supposed handshake agreement years ago. I’d respect him a LOT more if he’d said simply, “Look, professional athletes have short careers, so I need to make as much money as I can while I can.” I could believe that, and I’d be fine with it. Instead, everything he said seems like banal, insincere chatter so, though I wouldn’t have put it quite so strongly, Peter Williams isn’t wrong.

And that’s a small sample of what caught my eye over the past week.

Romney’s latest Bain scandal

Mitt Romney is a chronic liar, particularly about President Obama and Democrats generally. These lies are clear, obvious, and easily refuted. He keeps repeating them anyway, which suggests a callous disregard for the truth.

Now he’s been caught in a lie that may be criminal.

The video above from the Obama campaign lays out the guts of Romney’s scandal: Romney has repeatedly claimed he left Bain Capital in 1999 to run the Olympics, but Bain Capital filed reports with the USA regulatory body, the Securities and Exchange Commission, listing Romney as CEO and sole owner of Bain for three years after he claims he stopped having anything to do with Bain. That means he’s legally responsible for everything the company did in those three years.

So, either Romney lied to the SEC, filing falsified paperwork (which is a crime), or he’s lying to the American people. Put another way, the revelation utterly destroys his claim that he had nothing to do with the vulture capitalism of Bain—shipping American jobs overseas, bankrupting companies, destroying lives—after 1999 because he actually was in charge, despite his repeated claims heleft in 1999. Or, he wasn’t in charge and he lied to US Government regulators.

It’s not just lies to the US government, either. Today Romney told CBS News that he “had no involvement with the management of Bain Capital after 1999.” But as ThinkProgress points out, in 2002 he told a Massachusetts state hearing that “[T]here were a number of social trips and business trips that brought me back to Massachusetts, board meetings, Thanksgiving and so forth.” Which is it? Did he really have “no involvement” after 1999, or did he really have “a number of… business trips that brought me back to Massachusetts, board meetings… and so forth”? They are mutually exclusive statements, so both can’t be true. This means either he also lied in his sworn testimony to the Massachusetts government (which is probably a crime under state law), or he’s lying to the American people now.

This scandal gets right to the heart of Romney’s use of his business experience as if it was a good thing: He and it were bad—really bad. It also reinforces growing doubts about Romney’s character, particularly his truthfulness and integrity.

Romney owes the American people a full, open and honest explanation for this. He might try the truth for a change—but I doubt he’s capable of it.

Update: Andrew Sullivan, in a really good summary of this scandal, concludes with this:
I'm getting the feeling that Romney thinks he is above the level of accountability required in a presidential candidate or even in an average ethical businessman. He seems genuinely offended to be directly challenged with facts - which he still won't address or rebut in detail. So he simply huffs and puffs and uses words like "disgusting" for a perfectly valid charge in the big boy world of presidential politics.
I couldn't possibly agree more.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Marriage equality is a mainstream value

From Crosby Burns and Ben Harris at the Center for American Progress:

Crosby Burns and Ben Harris at the Center for American Progress have created this infographic to demonstrate how support for marriage equality is now a mainstream value in the USA. This is visual proof that the US has now passed the tipping point, and full marriage equality is inevitable because the majority of Americans support it.

In their full explanation talking about the contents of this graphic, the authors conclude:
With strong majority support nationwide, state initiatives sponsoring marriage equality on stable footing, and an enthusiasm gap that clearly favors proponents of equality, the future is looking bright for gay Americans eager to finally achieve full marriage rights under the law. The direction of the nation is clear: Support for marriage equality is now—and will continue to be—a mainstream value.
This is very, very good news.

Credit: The material “Infographic: Marriage Equality Is Now a Mainstream Value – Polls Show Majority of Americans Support Gay Marriage” was published by the Center for American Progress. Their Re-use Policy is here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Z is for zed

The last letter of the Latin alphabet is zed, which is derived from the Greek zeta. Americans often think it’s cute when they hear people say zed instead of zee, but, actually, most English dialects in the world say zed—only American English says zee. It’s probably the fault of those American Revolutionaries.

The American zee is derived from a late 17th century English dialect. After the American Revolution, the former British colonists were largely cut off linguistically from the mother country, so American English developed in its own way, largely without any of the changes adopted in England—like zed becoming dominant.

Does zed v. zee matter? Well, it does for Americans overseas and foreigners coming to America.

When I arrived in New Zealand, I had to quickly adapt to zed because some people had trouble understanding me if I said zee (they often thought I was saying the letter “C”). In the years since, I’ve adapted so thoroughly that zee sounds weird to me, and for some New Zealand acronyms, I simply can’t say the words without saying zed, things like TVNZ, ANZ, NZRU, for example.

When I say I can’t say them, I pretty much mean that literally: There have been times I’ve tried to say zee for American listeners and I end up stopping and starting as I try and remember the letter order. I think it’s a rhythm thing.

Folk wisdom has it that New Zealanders can spot a Z on a page of printed text, supposedly because they’re so used to seeing it in this country. Personally, I think it could be true, because when I look at a page of text I can often spot words spelled with a Z instead of an S, like prioritize instead of the correct spelling in New Zealand, prioritise. Ah spelling—a subject on its own! But those “-ize” words in American English are usually “-ise” words here.

The video above is from Z (pronounced Zed, of course), the rebranding for Shell in New Zealand. It’s 100% New Zealand owned and operated and to make that clear, they chose a name that would have some resonance in New Zealand. I chose this video because I like Z (the company) and because the video helps explain zed.

Zed is also the name of a New Zealand pop-rock band that was active 1998-2005.

And that’s the Ay to Zed of zed.

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!

Auckland Rates changes in 2012

This video is meant to explain the upcoming changes to rates in Auckland (rates are similar to US property taxes, but different). The various councils that make up the new Auckland all had their own systems that Wellington requires be combined into one unified system. This involves quite a lot of change, with some paying more, others paying less, as Auckland moves to a single, fair system. This video describes what’s basically the first step.

I think that this video is pretty good, and I’m quite interested in videos of this sort. But I’m also sharing it because I think it’s important that Aucklanders get to understand what’s going on, and that people in other parts of New Zealand (like Wellington) know one of the things that will happen if central government forces them to amalgamate as they did to Auckland. Also, overseas folks may get a small feel for what our property taxing system is like.

Monday, July 09, 2012

NZ Labour – ‘It's who we are’

This video is the latest from the New Zealand Labour Party, and it outlines the party’s history right up to the Clark government. I think that on balance it’s a pretty good summation of what the party’s all about. An early film clip puts it best, declaring that a New Zealand Labour Government “puts people before things”. It’s the essence of what the party is about, and it’s why I support Labour.

I’m something of a connoisseur of modern propaganda films (especially TV commercials), and I’d rank this as highly effective. However, it ends rather abruptly. All the other Labour defeats were dealt with, and I think the film should have taken that on the 2008 defeat, too, with a promise of putting things right—again—when it’s next in Government.

However, I don’t think that voter motivation was the point of this film, though it always should be included, in my opinion. Still, I think this is very good for what it is, and I hope that this means, as it seems to, that Labour will make greater use of videos as well as social media to get its message out.

So, this is who Labour is, and it’s also why I’m Labour

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Some July Internet Wading

I’ve been busy with work the past week or so, and haven’t had time for proper blogging. So, here are a few things I saw on the Internet that I haven’t had time to blog about:

Across the Internet, heterosexuals asked why Anderson Cooper had to formally come out. “Because you do not have to come out as heterosexual,” says Tiger Beatdown blogger Emily Manuel. She continues:
Heterosexuals do announce their sexuality in public, all the time, of course. Walking down the street holding hands, kissing their lover, wearing wedding rings, clothing and other aesthetic codes. But it is not a movement from unacknowledged to public, it has no risk or social consequences in itself. In his coming out letter, Cooper notes that he didn’t come out because a reporter’s private life shouldn’t matter. Indeed. But part of the point is, being heterosexual isn’t private—it’s public
So when heterosexuals ask, "Why did it take so long for him to come out," I reply with a question of my own:"why did it take you so long to make him feel safe enough to do so?"
However, it wasn’t exactly a secret that Cooper’s gay, so is it really news? Rising hip-hop star Frank Ocean also came out this week, and Rod McCullom argues on Ebony.com that Ocean’s coming out is a “game changer” because it could mark a turning point for hip-hip, which has a reputation for blatant misogyny and homophobia.

Not every gay person’s coming out is voluntary, let alone safe: Sunday’s New Zealand Herald website republished a GayNZ.com story about a gay Ugandan man who fled to New Zealand after the country’s leading newspaper named him as one of the country’s “Top 100 Homos”, which included the demand “Hang Them”. The situation is the direct result of the hatemongering of US far right anti-gay “Christian” activists in Uganda, and the danger they released is far from over. The original GayNZ.com story is somewhat different, and shows the front page of the newspaper in question.

While religious extremists from the US may have thought that using their god to promote hatred in Africa was a good idea, they will be disappointed to learn that Einstein did not prove that their god exists.

This past week, several folks on Facebook suddenly decided to post a supposed dialog between an “atheist professor” and a young student who at the end is said to be Albert Einstein. Trouble is, it’s nothing but another false urban legend. Einstein was an agnostic who didn’t believe in a personal god, and he didn’t take part in the alleged incident, which has been around in this form since at least 2004 (another version that didn’t mention Einstein appeared in 1999).

When I read the story, the first thing I thought to myself was that it sounded suspicious, so, in a case like this, my first stop was to check urban legend sites, which confirmed my suspicions (as did a more religion-focused site). Whenever something sounds too good to be true, or when something merely sounds implausible, I try to check it out. I have some sympathy for the people who posted the urban legend, though, because I don’t always stop to double check things that reinforce my beliefs or that say things that I want said.

In checking it out, I found a video version of the myth on YouTube in German (with subtitles) and set in a primary school instead of the usual university setting. I also found a recent (and rather foul-mouthed) YouTube video debunking the myth, something that was notable to me primarily because it was from someone who was similarly irritated with people posting it to Facebook.

And that’s a small sample of what caught my eye over the past week.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The children teach well

This new ad is part of New Zealand’s Get Thru campaign and is designed to remind people—teach them, actually—what to do in the event of an earthquake. Apparently, their review of the Canterbury earthquakes found that too few people knew what to do to protect themselves when an earthquake hits.

While it might seem that this wouldn’t protect people if the building they’re in collapses, the reality is that most modern buildings are built to withstand an earthquake, so the “Triangle of Life” method isn’t necessarily the most important survival technique. Instead, people are most at risk from falling objects, and "Drop, Cover and Hold" will help keep them safe from injury—and possible death.

Get Thru’s advertising has been focusing mainly on encouraging Kiwis to “Get Ready, Get Thru”. Advertising with specific survival techniques is a great idea, and using kids to do it is brilliant: Instead of tuning out, cynical adults stop and say, “aw, look at those cute kids!” and then absorb the message. Kids do, too.

Get Ready, Get Thru” are also promoting New Zealand’s largest-ever earthquake drill, and what they say is the world’s first nationwide drill, called the “New Zealand ShakeOut”. It will be held on Wednesday, September 26 at 9:26am, and people at home, work and school are encouraged to practice "Drop, Cover and Hold".

And if nothing else, we now know that earthquakes cause salamis.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Y is for yakka

English has many variants around the world, and regional slang within those variants. New Zealand and Australia have their own distinctive versions of English, yet they share some slang words and phrases, one of which is yakka.

Yakka means work, especially physical work, and it’s often used in the phrase “hard yakka” (for “hard work”). Yakka is derived from yaga, which meant “to work” in Yagara, an extinct Aboriginal language from what is now Queensland. Australian English picked up some Aboriginal words, just as NZ English has words from Māori or Pasifika languages. While NZ English has adopted some words of Australian origin, Aussies don’t seem to have picked up any NZ words.

NZ and Australian slang is often intimately associated with the local dry, often wry, sense of humour. That sometimes makes it hard for, say, Americans to pick up the meaning at first, since the slang will often be used with a healthy dose of irony or self-deprecation.

For example, someone might say, “I had day of hard yakka”, when, in fact, they spent it lying on the sofa watching television. It’s said seriously, as if it’s really true. The speaker is unlikely to let on what the true story is without a follow-up question, like “didja now?” or maybe, "Is that right?" This sort of thing is repeated in a lot of Kiwi slang.

It seems to me that yakka isn’t as commonly used as it was even when I arrived in New Zealand, and that’s reflected elsewhere: It’s a brand name for workwear clothing, especially for physical labour (Hard Yakka), but they now includes corporate attire, too. The corporate name has been changed by its not altogether loved current Australian owners, leaving the yakka name behind.

Language evolves and changes, and slang and informal language does so the most quickly. Old words and phrases fall into disuse and new ones come along. Keeping track of it all really is hard yakka.

The image accompanying this post is an editorial cartoon called “Hard Work” by George Herriman, and published Sunday, November 24, 1907 in the LA Examiner. It is in the public domain.


Speaking of hard work/yakka, or having a holiday from it, I wrote this on July 4—Independence Day in the USA. A happy and safe holiday to all my American friends!

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sunny is four

Today is Sunny’s fourth birthday, and her second with us. She’s lived with us for just around 18 months, but you’d never know that she wasn’t always a part of the family.

She’s happy and, well, sunny. In fact, I often say of her, “Sunny by name, sunny by nature,” and she is. Within the first month after she moved in with us, I’d already noted ways in which Sunny and Jake are similar. On the other hand, she barks more quickly and loudly than Jake does, but usually stops sooner. She barely changes her sleeping spot at night, but Jake moves from place to place.

Jake and Sunny are also great friends. The have a wrestling match every morning, and often a few other times during the day, too. They seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company—and sometimes they sit in ways that are almost freakishly matched. Even Bella seems to like having her around.

Sunny often kind of muscles her way in if Jake (and sometimes, Bella) is getting attention from us, and she enjoys sleeping on our laps when we watch TV, as do Jake and Bella. It’s not unheard of for one of us to have all three sleeping on our laps, spilling onto the arms of the chair.

So, in short, Sunny is now fully a part of the family, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I took the photo above when today’s big rainstorm cleared and gave me some light. In the photos below, the top row was a sequence when I was trying to get a posed photo of her, and her sister Bella decided to get in the frame. This sort of manoeuvre is common enough. The photo at the bottom is Sunny and Jake in one of their wrestling matches, this one in the guest bedroom before the sun returned.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Sunny!

Related posts:

Sunny is three – her first birthday with us
Sunny has arrived – When Sunny came to live with us

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Weekend Diversion: Axis of Awesome

Axis of Awesome are an Australian comedy trio (or, “Australia’s Most Awesomest Comedy Band”) who perform in a variety of styles, including especially pop parodies. I have no idea how I ran across them, but hang around YouTube long enough and you’re bound to meet all sorts of interesting people. And some not so interesting, but we don’t talk about those. We were probably drunk, it was late and, well, one thing led to another.

Above is the official video of what’s probably their most successful song so far, 4 Chords, which demonstrates that many hit pop songs use the same four chords (some language may be NSFW). When you hear the songs all mashed together like this, it’s easy to see how songs can catch on—and why new pop songs often sound familiar when we hear them for the first time. Not that I mind.

Another of their songs that I particularly like is How to Write a Love Song (safe version on the video below). These videos both make fun of pop songs, and I love pop music. That love is fully rational, however: I know that a lot of pop music is derivative, unoriginal and unchallenging. But it can also be a lot of fun, and specific performers often make up for any weaknesses in the songs themselves.

So, while much of pop music is often as irrelevant as these bits from Axis of Awesome suggest, and that’s why they’re funny, there are enough exceptions to make pop music something more than merely the butt of jokes, sometimes far more.

But, I can still appreciate jokes made at the expense of even something I love. I wish more people could.