Friday, August 31, 2012

Two lies in a pod

I’ve written extensively about Mitt Romney’s blatant and deliberate lies and distortions—far too many times to link to them, in fact. We’re talking about indisputable lies, by the way, not differences of opinion. It’s now obvious that lying is what Romney does as a standard operating procedure.

It turns out that his running mate, Paul Ryan is taking lying to an entirely different level—and making Romney look like an amateur.

His speech to the Republican National Convention was filled with so many lies and distortions that the mainstream newsmedia has barely finished debunking all of them. At The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn debunks Ryan on five of his biggest lies. Titled, “The most dishonest Convention Speech… ever?”, Cohn takes on Ryan because “he was so brazenly willing to twist the truth.”

On MaddowBlog, Steve Benen sums up the offensiveness of the lies:
“At a basic level, what bothers me about politicians who lie, especially at a national level, is that the deceptions are insulting. A candidate who knows the truth, but makes a deliberate decision to deceive, is working from the assumption that Americans are suckers.

“And last night, Paul Ryan made painfully clear that he thinks we're all profound idiots who'll believe an endless string of lies, so long as they're packaged well and presented with conviction…”
Republicans won’t care what a bunch of liberals think, and the mainstream media hasn’t given enough attention to Ryan’s lie-a-thon. However, rightwing Fox “News” published a piece by their paid contributor, Sally Kohn, that put it more strongly than any mainstream media outlet—and even more strongly than anybody I’ve yet seen on centre/left sites:
“…to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

“The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. Said fact checkers have already condemned certain arguments that Ryan still irresponsibly repeated.”
Fox ought to be applauded for publishing this (yes, really). Sadly, she’ll be at the centre of seriously uninformed—and even unhinged—Internet attacks. So far, most of the retorts I’ve seen have been based on restating falsehoods and insisting they’re facts, that Kohn was wrong and the lie is true. It will get worse.

Dan Amira, writing for New York magazine, pointed out the bottom line:
“But here's the thing: Most of the millions of people who watched the speech on television tonight do not read fact-checks or obsessively consume news fifteen hours a day, and will never know how much Ryan's case against Obama relied on lies and deception. Ryan's pants are on fire, but all America saw was a barn-burner.”
As much as the lies of Ryan (and Romney) appall mainstream American voters who know about them, the vast majority will never know or will, like Sally Kohn’s detractors, insist that the lies are actually true. Since democracy depends on truth and facts to survive, this is a terrible thing.

America, I fear for your future. And that’s no lie.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Double parody

This video is a double joke: It sarcastically attacks Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin and does so through a parody of pharmaceutical ads. On the whole, I think it works.

I’m obviously a big promoter of humour in political debate, election campaigns in particular, but I do think this parody doesn’t entirely hit the mark. Akin has the same beliefs as Paul Ryan, but Ryan isn’t usually dumb enough to actually say most of them out loud—apart from calling rape just another “method of contraception”, of course. Akin and Ryan are ideological twins and that point should have been clearer, rather than mostly skewering the dumbassery of Akin.

Still, I did think it was funny, and also that it was a pretty good parody of those annoying pharmaceutical ads. As an aside, as far as I know, New Zealand and the US are still the only two countries in the world that allow pharmaceutical ads on TV. Aren’t we lucky…


Today New Zealand’s Parliament voted to keep the drinking age at 18. On balance, I think this is a sensible move.

The options before Parliament were to keep the age at 18, raise it to 20, or have a split age: 18 for bars, but 20 for buying alcohol in supermarkets and bottle stores. That last one was a truly daft idea.

The well-meaning people who proposed the split age felt that allowing 18 year olds to drink alcohol only in a licensed establishment (like a bar) would be “safer” because they’d be “supervised” and young people wouldn’t be able to get too drunk, or so the reasoning went. The backers also thought that preventing young people from buying alcohol at supermarkets and bottle shops would prevent them from “pre-loading”, that is, getting drunk on cheaper drinks before they go to bars.

There are other, less drastic means already available: Cracking down on the number and location of off-license businesses, prosecuting people who drink in liquor ban areas and ensuring that drunk people don’t get into bars, all of which current law can deal with.

One problem with the split age is that it would transfer all alcohol profits to bars, many of which are associated with big companies, even alcohol conglomerates. Worse, it would also discourage young people from staying home, making drink driving more likely.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with the split age or raising the drinking age to 20 is that they both unreasonably singled-out young people—18 and 19 year olds—to be scapegoats for New Zealand’s binge drinking culture (a problem shared with other countries, by the way). There are a lot more folks over 20 than under, yet no one is proposing to make things tougher for older New Zealanders to get a drink—or drunk.

There have been other daft proposals that may or may not make it through Parliament, but my bottom line is simple and, perhaps surprisingly, conservative: Using laws to change people’s behaviour ought to be the last resort, when everything else has failed. We’re nowhere near that point.

We’ve already seen a decline in drink driving thanks to targeted advertising, there’s no reason to think we can’t do the same for binge drinking in general, but we’ve never made a serious effort. Similarly, as with sex education, the goal should be risk reduction and harm minimisation, not prohibition: Telling people that they can’t drink or have sex won’t stop them from doing either. Instead, the better approach is teaching them to be safe, to protect themselves and their friends and to minimise harm. We can never prevent harm, anyway, no matter how many laws we pass. And, we already have boundaries in law—we should enforce those we already have before adding more.

So, I think Parliament acted sensibly. Let’s take reasonable approaches to reducing risk and minimising harm before battering people with new laws to criminalise behaviour they will engage in whether we approve or not.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Zealand Progress

New Zealand's marriage equality bill, called the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, has passed its First Reading: 80 aye, 40 no, and no abstentions.

The bill now goes to Select Committee, which will hold public hearings on the bill. The committee can recommend amendments, and explains its reasons in a report to the House.

Not less than three sitting days later, the bill can be read a second time. Amendments unanimously supported by the Select Committee are considered as part of the bill, and amendments that don’t have unanimous agreement are debated individually after the main debate on the bill. If it loses the vote on the second reading, it’s over.

If the bill passes its second reading, it’s considered by a committee of the whole House. There is no time limit on debate, so this can take several days. Once they agree to a final version, it’s reprinted with the changes and is ready for its third reading.

The final debate is usually not as involved, and bills that make it to this stage are rarely rejected.

The final step is Royal Assent: The Sovereign or Sovereign’s representative (the Governor General) must sign it for it to become law. I’m not aware of any instance in which this has been withheld in New Zealand.

So, all this means one vote down, two more readings (votes) to go before it's law—but the size of tonight's vote is HUGELY encouraging. Like a lot of other people, I expected the vote to be tighter, so I'm especially happy because the huge margin makes eventual passage much more likely.


Meanwhile, in Florida, the US Republican Party called for all same-gender marriages to be outlawed throughout the country—and no civil unions, either…

Anatomy of a smear

The Republican attack machine has been going into overdrive over an entirely manufactured outrage—a fauxrage, as it’s called—through their propaganda media, especially their Fox “News” Channel. The graphic at left (click to embiggen) details how Republicans created, promoted and institutionalised the lie and smear.

Media Matters documented all this when they posted the graphic: "How the 'Fox News Cycle' can have a significant impact on Republican politics."

They develop a smear.
They criticize other media for not covering their smear.
They use unethical practices to push that smear.
The Fox News smear becomes a Republican theme.
    This isn’t the first time that the Republican Party, Karl Rove and Fox have worked together to create a massive disinformation campaign in order to hoodwink American voters. It is, however, one of the few times it’s been so clear and obvious to anyone who cares to look behind their propaganda curtain.

    I just wish more people would start with the assumption that if it’s on Fox, it’s almost certainly not true.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Come Home - NZ Army tribute

    New Zealand rapper Konflikt has posted a tribute to the members of the New Zealand Defence Force who have been killed, especially the five killed in the past two weeks. I think the video is very effective, and so is the song. It’s a nice tribute.

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    The Do-Over

    This Obama-Biden video may not be quite as light-hearted as I like, but it’s nevertheless laser-focused: Romney’s campaign desperately needs to re-focus attention, to have a total do-over, because their proposed policies are so bad—so bad, in fact, that they’re already documented failures. So, while this particular video may not be everything I meant when I talked about humour in the campaign, this is good enough.

    It’s a judgement

    Tropical storm Isaac, on it’s way to becoming a Category 1 hurricane, has forced the Republican National Convention to cancel the first day of proceedings. So, obviously, that’s someone’s god’s judgement on the Republican Party, right? I mean, if this was happening to the Democratic National Convention we all know that Republicans would be tripping all over themselves to declare it was “god’s judgement”, so, logically, that must be true here, too, right? Right?! It doesn’t? Why, could that mean Republicans are hypocrites about religion? I am shocked!

    Obviously, I’m not alone in mocking the Republican Party for its religious hypocrisy and hubris; the video above mocks them even more directly. All of which is necessary, of course: Republican politicians and windbags are never happy unless they can claim to be victims of those mean liberals. They just don’t realise that they write all the jokes we make.

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

    Armstrong and legacy

    Like many people, I was saddened by the news that Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on the moon, has died. Like so many others, I distinctly remember watching that historic event, our whole family gathered around our black and white TV. It was a great moment.

    But the space programme was a backdrop for my entire childhood, as I’ve mentioned in several previous posts. I grew up assuming that there would always be a space programme, that we’d always be reaching for the next “giant leap”. The fact that the exploration of space by humans has ended for the foreseeable future makes me sad, and disappointed at the short-sightedness of politicians.

    But politicians aren’t alone in that short-sightedness, of course,they’re just the ones who actually determine what happens—or what doesn’t. Usually their opposition is a populist reaction to the narrow-mindedness of their constituents.

    One thing that make me pretty wild is when people dismiss science, or deny that it has much—or even any—use to us in our day-to-day lives. They say that as they live their lives surrounded by technology science has created, and as they benefit from medical advances that would seem like magic not so many decades ago. The public’s lack of understanding about the benefits of the space programme is no different. So much of what we now take for granted comes, directly or indirectly, from the space programme. Many of these would probably have been invented eventually, but the space programme brought them to us sooner.

    So, consider just some of what has come about because of the space programme:

    Religious and personal freedom alike

    In my first post in this series of posts about enacting marriage equality in New Zealand, I briefly mentioned religious liberty, and I’d like to expand on that a bit. One of the important things to know is that when New Zealand has marriage equality, religious freedom will not just be preserved, it will be expanded.

    The right to freedom of expression is based on another essential freedom: Freedom of belief. This means we have the right to believe whatever we want to, and to talk about those beliefs. While this could mean anything, it certainly means the right to hold and express religious beliefs, whether aligned with a particular religion, no religion or even against religion. No one questions that.

    We also believe that government should stay out of the way of religious belief—it shouldn’t try to tell people what they can and cannot believe. Government should be, basically, a neutral referee on religious matters, not taking a stand promoting a particular religion, but, rather, protecting the right of all people to have and express their beliefs. That’s what religious liberty means.

    However, under current law, the government only protects the rights of those churches that condemn homosexuality or simply disapprove of loving same-gender couples marrying. When marriage equality is enacted, those same churches will have exactly the same rights: They’ll still be free to refuse to perform their religious wedding ceremonies for any couples they don’t approve of: Absolutely nothing with change for such churches.

    But what about other churches, the ones that welcome GLBT people and want to perform religious wedding ceremonies for loving same-gender couples? Under current law, those churches’ religious liberty is forbidden by the government. Once marriage equality is enacted, their religious freedom will actually be expanded.

    It’s also worth noting that New Zealand is a secular nation, and there’s no legal requirement for couples to have a religious wedding ceremony for their civil marriage to be valid. A huge number of New Zealand couples choose to be married somewhere other than a church, and many of them choose an entirely secular ceremony. What churches think is probably irrelevant to many of those couples.

    All of this means that the New Zealand government is denying religious freedom to anyone other than those with the most restrictive views. When marriage equality is enacted, those with the most restrictive views will have exactly the same right to religious beliefs as they do now, but those who believe differently will, for the first time, have their religious freedom protected by the government.

    So, religious liberty for all New Zealanders will actually be expanded when marriage equality is enacted. That means that all New Zealanders will have greater personal freedom in general. Who could be against that?

    Previous posts in this series:

    Marriage is not being ‘redefined’
    Why civil unions aren’t enough
    There is no ‘slippery slope’
    The people DO decide

    Next: Choice and the ‘gay gene’

    Related: Conservative Christians can do right

    Saturday, August 25, 2012

    Romney has problems

    Mitt Romney has a lot of problems. For some reason, he refuses to be open and transparent about his finances, and the issue just won’t go away. He can’t quite connect with the base of the Republican Party, many of whom openly oppose him, so he appoints an extremist as his running mate, and now finds he has to deal with all that additional baggage. It’s all his own fault.

    Mitt Romney is clearly desperately trying to hide something by not releasing his income tax returns, though we don’t know what, precisely. He may not have done anything illegal, though we can’t know that for certain, but whatever he’s hiding, chances are the American public wouldn’t approve.

    So, Romney’s new distraction is saying that his religion is the reason he can’t release his tax returns. He said:
    "Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given," Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out Sunday. "This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church."
    So, Romney’s basically trying to say that being open and honest and releasing his tax returns would be against his religion. He’s trying out the “religious liberty” excuse that Republicans trot out whenever they want to shut down debate and end criticism. But Mitt isn’t a fundamentalist protestant, so it doesn’t really fit him, and it seems out of place. And, it also reminds the Republican base that he’s a Mormon, which is one of the main reasons they don’t like him.

    Then today he tried again to connect with the Republican base. Campaigning in Michigan, he “joked” that "No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised." When he was criticised for the dog whistle of raising the birther delusion, a "senior Romney advisor" claimed, "The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States." That’s true, but beside the point: Romney was implicitly giving aide and comfort to the birther whackadoodles in the Republican Party, probably deliberately. Romney, after all, has never—ever—condemned his supporters (including Donald Trump) spouting birther nonsense. In fact, he’s become testy when asked about it.

    Actually, Romney gets testy whenever the newsmedia refuses to stick to the Romney script, none more so than when they persist in asking about Paul Ryan and abortion. Ryan was co-sponsor, with Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, of a bill that would cut off all federal funding for abortions in the case of rape. Now, in an interview, Ryan said that rape is just another “method of contraception”, which is why he says government should prevent raped women from getting an abortion.

    Ryan gave those honest answers in that interview to deal with the problem the Romney campaign created by trying to expunge Ryan’s vehemently anti-abortion record, trying instead to imply that it was actually the same as Romney’s mere strong opposition. No one bought that, so Ryan returned to his extremist roots, but arguing that Romney “makes policy”, not him, and that even Romney’s position would be a “vast improvement of where we are right now,” where abortion is safe and legal.

    This won’t inoculate Romney, however, and actually creates a further problem: It now makes clear that Ryan is an extremist, well out of step with the majority of American voters. The whole controversy with Akin/Ryan has turned Missouri from a state where Romney was ahead, to one where President Obama now has a slight lead—a toss-up, in other words—and this is from a conservative-aligned polling organisation.

    So, Romney has problems: He can’t connect with the Republican base, and when he tries he scares the hell out of mainstream voters. The questions about his finances won’t go away, no matter what distractions he tries, and now, thanks to Gawker, the record of Romney’s Bain Capital are being probed with many fine-toothed combs.

    Romney has many problems.

    A good issue ad

    This ad from the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry, who will run it in Tampa during the Republican National Convention. It goes to show, first, that not all Republican politicians are troglodytes, despite the fact it sometimes seems they are, and, second, that even otherwise awful people (Dick Cheney) can still be right sometimes.

    While I seriously doubt this ad will have any effect whatsoever on Republicans at their party’s convention, due to the stranglehold the American Taliban has on that party, it’s nevertheless a good ad because it’s positive and upbeat, and because it demonstrates it’s possible to be a Republican and support marriage equality. Those two are very good reasons why this is a good ad.

    I like sharing good ads from our side of the political divide. I like even more that there have been so many positive ones lately.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

    The effect of humour

    This morning, I posted another video mocking Mitt Romney. My post was actually based on what I said when I'd earlier shared the video on Facebook and Google+ (YouTube has buttons for that). I wrote:
    Here's another video mocking Mitt Romney—because he deserves it. I really hope creative folks make this a big thing—it's one of the few ways we can fight back and counter the billions being spent to try to elect Romney. Messages packaged with humour and fun are also more likely to cut through the noise.

    Get busy, creative people!
    When I wrote the post for this blog, I didn’t actually use any of that (for a change—one very often influences, or copies, the other). It actually talks about something—the use of humour—I wish I had included in this morning’s post. Well, it’s never too late on a blog, I suppose.

    This became a topic for me when I received a comment on my Google+ post basically rejecting the notion. The person pointed out that George Bush 2 was mocked in 2004, but still won re-election. So, if anything, the joking and mocking may have helped him.

    This is a not uncommon view when talking about past elections—that mocking and joking about a candidate actually helps that candidate. If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now.

    2004 was a VERY long time ago—and an entirely different era. It was, in fact, the last of the old campaign style—in some ways, the last presidential campaign of the twentieth century, despite the year it actually took place. Here’s why:
    • In 2004, Facebook was small and open only to a select few, almost all students.
    • MySpace was the "large" social network—with fewer than 5 million members.
    • Twitter didn't exist.
    • YouTube wasn't founded until 2005. There simply was no way to post, much less share viral videos.
    Today, Facebook has an estimated 955 million users, Twitter has roughly 500 million users and frequently drives the news cycle. YouTube has 4 billion views per day.

    All of which means that there are now unprecedented opportunities to speak directly to people in a way that makes 2004 look like horse and buggy time compared to today. Now, when videos and images and issues "go viral" they drive the news cycle and influence politics. That was impossible in 2004.

    So, it’s highly improbable that any jokes directed at Bush had any effect one way or the other—and not just because John Kerry was the subject of a lot of jokes, too. In those pre-social media days, it's doubtful that the vast majority of voters were even aware of much of the mockery or jokes. What actually drove the 2004 election were the brilliant dark politics tactics of Karl Rove and his allies.

    A better analogy to this discussion is 2008 where the mockery of Sarah Palin helped reinforce her image as ignorant, while others focused on her extremism. We also saw endless mockery of the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage’s pathetic “Gathering Storm” ad.

    The mockery of the NOMLOM’s ad didn’t prevent passage of Prop 8, but it’s improbable that it helped it, either: The main demographic who made, saw and shared those parodies and put-downs was one that overwhelmingly supported marriage equality. The mockery of Palin certainly pissed-off the people who were already committed to voting Republican, but there’s no evidence that it helped them, either.

    Instead, I’d argue that the use of the Internet by Democratic-leaning partisans helped win the presidency for Barack Obama—we’d need some solid research to verify or refute that, but it’s certainly a reasonable assumption. I say that not just because we saw it used so much, but because it clearly energised young voters who typically don’t vote. That same demographic grouping drives much of the social media sharing, and the best work supports President Obama and the Democrats. Which is not to say that it’s impossible for Romney and his supporters to play the same game or that they can’t produce videos or images that go viral; it’s just that the demographic grouping that is most involved in this work and to share it is also least likely to be Republican, statistically speaking.

    Still, whatever we say or think, whether we like it or approve of it or not, the effect of social media and viral campaigns this year will be far bigger than in 2008. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, especially for the reasons I said when I shared the video on social media.

    I’ve now brought all this full circle: This post is based on a comment I wrote on my Google+ post,

    Full of Mitt

    Ask, and we shall receive…

    Yesterday, I posted a fun video mocking Mitt Romney and said, “I would much rather we have more fun and upbeat anti-Romney videos like this, and maybe not so many of the more common dour sermons with menacing music in the background.” That request has already been granted.

    The video above by Ben Sheehan skewers Romney with a parody of Mitt himself. As with the video I posted yesterday, this one also has the lyrics posted to the video description on YouTube.

    I’ve been aware of presidential campaigns for 48 years, seriously for at least 40, and this is the first time in my life that I’ve seen a major party candidate who is so prone to lying at nearly every possible opportunity. Because of that, he’s also the first presidential candidate I’ve seen who richly (heh, heh, I made a little joke there) deserves to be mocked. If a mocking of Romney makes me laugh, it’ll probably end up posted here (especially if the script/lyrics are also posted—I like clarity).

    I thought that one of the funniest scenes in this video is at the very end (I really did laugh out loud). For comedians, Mitt is the gift that just keeps on giving—he really is full of Mitt.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    The disclose video

    The video above is a parody of One Direction’s "What Makes You Beautiful", but with a political twist: It mocks Mitt Romney, who refuses full disclosure, preferring to hide the truth from the American people. In so doing, he invites public mocking. It is nice, however, when such mocking is so pleasantly packaged.

    The video is by Full Frontal Freedom, which describes itself as “a coalition of independent artists and media folks using our creativity to promote civic engagement.” The video description on YouTube also has the lyrics.

    All joking aside, I would much rather we have more fun and upbeat anti-Romney videos like this, and maybe not so many of the more common dour sermons with menacing music in the background. Maybe that’s just me.

    The wages of sin

    On September 30, 2000, I bought an expensive pair of sunglasses. I felt so guilty about spending the money that I accidentally referred to them in emails to friends back in the US as my “sin-glasses”. Turns out they were a good investment because today, nearly 12 years later, they finally broke.

    I bought the sunglasses more or less by accident when Nigel and I were out shopping one Saturday. They cost me $202, which at the time was about US$82, which, I remarked at the time, was probably almost as much as I’d spent on all the other sunglasses I'd ever bought, combined.

    Allowing for inflation, those “sin-glasses” would cost about $274 in today’s money—which would be an astounding $222 in today’s US dollars. This goes to show how inflation affects things (the price in NZ dollars) as well as how low the Kiwi dollar was in September 2000—it was worth less than half of what it’s worth today.

    Before that day in 2000, I typically bought cheap sunglasses. My “sin-glasses” were replacing a pair I bought three years earlier for US$7 from a street vendor at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, which I’d lost. Since then, I also bought another pair of cheap sunglasses at a store in Paeroa a few years ago for $4 because I’d accidentally left my “sin-glasses” at home in Auckland and needed to drive. I lost them this past January.

    What’s interesting to me is that the only two pairs of sunglass I’ve ever lost were both cheap—the expensive ones lasted me nearly 12 years. Actually, they probably would have lasted me longer, but they kept getting squashed in my coat pocket, which led me to bend them back into shape, a little too forcefully, apparently. The only other defect was a scratch on one lens I earned when I dropped them at a relative’s house around the time they were what turned out to be “middle aged”.

    I know that in the early days, I treated them so well it was practically with reverence. Clearly that didn’t last, but in between then and now, those sunglasses served me well. Sometimes it really does make sense to pay for a high quality product.

    Those sunglasses served me well. No sin in that.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    The decline of religion

    Will religion die out? It’s way too early to answer that, but the world is certainly becoming less religious. Given the bloody history of religious conflict on this planet, there are plenty of people who think this is a good trend.

    The most recent WIN-Gallup International “Religiosity and Atheism Index” has found that, globally, religiosity has dropped by 9 percentage points while atheism has grown by 3 points. Even so, the planet is still plenty religious, with 59% classifying themselves that way, 23% saying they’re not religious and only 13% saying they are atheists (mainly in East Asia).

    Still, religion doesn’t yet need to worry, and that’s true for most religious groups: 81% of those who say they’re Christian also call themselves religious (only 16% say they’re not religious). Muslims are less religious than Christians, with 74% saying they’re religious (20% are not), and Jews are less religious still: A mere 38% say they’re religious and a majority—54%—are not religious. The most religious group are Hindus, at 82% with only 12% not religious.

    As with other studies (such as by Pew Research), religiosity declines the more education one has: 68% of those with less than secondary education described themselves as religious, as did a still strong 61% of those who have secondary education. However, only 52%—a bare majority—of those with post-secondary education call themselves religious.

    The United States, where religion overshadows much of the country’s politics, saw its religiosity drop by 13 percentage points, from 73% in 2005 to 60% in 2012. Atheism in the United States remains a tiny minority, however, rising from only 1% in 2005 to 5% now. I bet we’ll see panicked publicity from the US’ religious right about the “500% rise in atheism in the United States” which may be technically true, but which is also a “gee whiz statistic”—that is, a stat that sounds impressive until one realises it actually says nothing. Growth from 1% to 5% is pretty insignificant and is probably merely the result of demographic changes.

    New Zealand wasn’t included in this survey, though our cousins across the ditch, Australians, were. Although Australia’s religiosity isn’t terribly relevant to New Zealand, given some pretty significant cultural and demographic differences, I still find it interesting: 37% religious, 48% not and 10% atheist, meaning a clear majority are not religious. Not that you’d know that from their politics sometimes.

    Surveys like this are interesting, particularly as a way of mapping cultural change over time, but they are, at best, mere snapshots. Events can change things in either direction, and so can demographic changes. Neither the religious nor the atheist should read too much into this or any other statistical snapshot.

    However, multiple studies and censuses do indicate that the world is slowly becoming less religious over time. I sincerely hope that this means that, over time, there will be less religious conflict in the world. Sadly, there’s not yet any evidence of that happening.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    Worth quoting: Mark Potok

    I haven’t said anything about the recent shooting in Washington, DC. As much as the inexcusable crime disgusts me, so, too, does the way the radical right has been attempting to exploit the crime for its own political advantage—especially by attempting to shut down its most effective critics.

    This, I think, is the best response to that exploitation so far, and, fittingly, it comes from the radical right’s main target:
    Yesterday’s attack on the Family Research Council and the shooting of a security guard there was a tragedy. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) deplores all violence, and our thoughts are with the wounded victim, Leo Johnson, his family and others who lived through the attack.

    For more than 40 years, the SPLC has battled against political extremism and political violence. We have argued consistently that violence is no answer to problems in a democratic society, and we have strongly criticized all those who endorse such violence, whether on the political left or the political right.

    But this afternoon, FRC President Tony Perkins attacked the SPLC, saying it had encouraged and enabled the attack by labeling the FRC a “hate group.” The attacker, Floyd Corkins, “was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Perkins said. “I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology.”

    Perkins’ accusation is outrageous. The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage. The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.

    As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem” — an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated. An FRC official has said he wanted to “export homosexuals from the United States.” The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.

    Perkins and his allies, seeing an opportunity to score points, are using the attack on their offices to pose a false equivalency between the SPLC’s criticisms of the FRC and the FRC’s criticisms of LGBT people. The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false. It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.
    Statement by Mark Potok, Senior Fellow of the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor of its Intelligence Report and Hatewatch blog.

    A good ad

    This is an ad from Emily’s List Super PAC is against the Republican candidate for US Senator from Wisconsin. This is a particularly effective ad because it highlights the fact that the Republican is just another a Washington insider backed by the corporate elites. But it does so in a way that’s not an overtly personal attack, nor misleading (all of the information contained is readily verifiable—and it’s only a small portion of the evidence they could have used).

    Ads like this are, by definition, negative, but this particular ad doesn’t stray into the gutter of lies and deception that so many Republican Super PAC ads do. I doubt that many of the ads from Super PACs on the Republican side will be on the high ground. I’d say the same about ones on the Democratic side—except there are so few of them it probably doesn’t matter. In any case, descent into the sewer is inevitable.

    Still, this ad is an example of a negative ad that doesn’t have to be too negative to get the point across.

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    About people

    “Let me tell you about people,” he said, raising his index finger toward me like a sword. “They’re petty, self-centred, self-righteous, vain, arrogant and they’re usually totally pig-headed!” He paused, turning a mental page. “And when they’re sure they’re right, they’ll belittle you, your beliefs, the fact that you even have those beliefs—in fact, anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow world view!”

    He paused, drew back, and returned his eyes to normal. “Now,” he said matter-of-factly, “let me tell you about the people I don’t like…”

    Après les événements d'aujourd'hui.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    One month later

    Exactly one month ago, I posted a video about That Gotye Earworm (and I still love that video…). Now comes a video from Gotye that mixes together many of the parodies and covers of his song. As we all know, I love viral videos, so this appeals to me for that reason alone. But I also really like the effect of so many different, um, collaborators on this video.

    And it’s as good an example as any of what I find so appealing about new media on the Internet.

    In the meantime

    I was obviously otherwise engaged last week. That could just be a nice way of saying “lazy”, but this time I was just busy. First there was work, then at the weekend we went to Tairua. It’s been a busy time, and I’m only now getting caught up.

    However, even though I haven’t published, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t working on things related to the blog: I have several posts in various states of completion, most of which will eventually end up published. But I also took time for a radical (for me) departure.

    When I started this blog, and for many years afterward, I had a policy of never editing posts once another one was published: If I posted something, I could change it as much as I wanted until I published a new one, and then I stopped edits (apart from addendums and spelling corrections).

    In the past year or so I’ve had second thoughts about that, and have allowed myself to make minor edits for clarity or for better grammar, not just to correct spelling. This month, it went up another notch: I started fixing formatting.

    For quite some time, I used Microsoft Word to write my posts, cutting and pasting the things into Blogger, including type effects like italic, bold, etc. It was great. Some years later, after a couple Blogger upgrades and two template changes, I noticed that when I looked at the HTML, Word included all sorts of garbage code—mostly stuff to tell Word what to do or what things were (like adding some sort of location tag whenever I dared to mention “NZ”).

    Mostly, this was an annoyance, but sometimes it messed up the formatting, especially spacing between paragraphs. I eventually worked out that if I pasted the text into the HTML box instead of “Compose” all that garbage formatting was stripped off, and I’ve been doing that ever since (and manually adding type effects like italics).

    But lately when I’ve searched old posts, some—especially those from around the beginning—have triple spaces or more between paragraphs. So, I decided to start fixing them as I run across them. In a way, this is just making the look of this blog consistent across all posts, but it IS a change from when I first published them. Does it matter? Clearly I don’t think so.

    The fact that I even wondered whether such changes matter or not shows that even when I’m busy I can think about silly stuff. Must be a coping mechanism. I have no similar excuse for doing so the rest of the time.

    And, I’m still going to fix stuff.

    Conservative Christians can do right

    In the discussion over marriage equality, one thing that’s hardly ever discussed is the fact that there’s no inherent incompatibility between being a conservative Christian and supporting marriage equality—despite what some politically-motivated folks try and make people believe. There are plenty of theological as well as common sense reasons why that’s true, but let’s be honest: As a non-theist, I’m hardly the best person to make that case.

    Fortunately, others are doing so, and far better than I ever could.

    Playwright and composer Wayne Self has posted an excellent discussion of all this, arguing “The fact is, you can support my equality under the law even if you disagree with me completely.” He lays out both the logical and the religious reasons for that, imbued with humour and compassion for those who can’t quite come to terms with that reality—yet.

    It’s a long read, but SO worth it for conservative believers and those who love them.

    Monday, August 13, 2012

    At the beach

    On Saturday, we drove to Tairua on the Coromandel coast for a family birthday party. They party was held at a bach there (pronounced “batch”, and it’s what a holiday home is called in the North Island; in the South Island, it’s called a crib). It was right on the beach and even with rainy weather it was a very nice spot.

    I’ve never visited Tairua before, but since it’s a couple hours drive from Auckland it’s a bit too far for frequent weekend getaways, so I don’t know how Aucklanders can handle that, though many do. The road is pretty diabolical in spots (5 kilometres of twisting, hilly roads, a short break, another 5kms, and so on for half an hour or longer), but at certain points in summer it can be practically bumper-to-bumper.

    Nevertheless, the town is nice and it’s a good place to visit. We had a great time (and so did Sunny and Jake who came along with is; all up, there were six dogs of various family members there).

    The photo above is part of the view from the deck of the bach (a storey above the ground). It was taken with my cellphone because I didn’t know where my digital camera was (turns out is was in a bag I’d brought with me—doh!). Still, despite the low quality, you can get the general idea.

    The photo below was taken on my phone with an App called 360, which creates panorama shots. It’s not perfect, and it’s still limited by the resolution of the phone’s camera, just like the shot above, but it gives a better idea of what the view from the deck was like.

    Like I said, it was a very nice spot.

    Monday, August 06, 2012

    Cheeky Aussies 2

    More than two years ago, I wrote about something that amused New Zealanders to no end: An Australian newspaper, upset at that the Australian team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup lost its first match to Germany 4-0, reported New Zealand’s draw in its first match as “Australasia 1, Slovakia 1”.

    Well, they’re doing it again, only this time it’s even more bizarre.

    Australia has suffered a “medal drought”, with gold medals hard to come by. As of yesterday, New Zealand had three golds and Australia still had only one. Since most rankings tables list teams by gold medals, it meant that New Zealand was ranked more highly than Australia. It’s bad enough, apparently, for the delicate Aussie egos to have to contend with “poor performance”, but to do worse than New Zealand was simply unbearable.

    So, over the weekend, when New Zealand was listed in tenth place on such rankings, Australia’s Channel 9 couldn’t bring itself to broadcast the fact that New Zealand was doing better than Australia. To get around that, they broadcast a medal tally listing only the top nine nations—they didn’t show New Zealand at all! Instead, after nine they skipped to Australia, which was much lower in the rankings.

    One Aussie sports journalist referred to “Team Oceania”, leading Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to combine the two countries’ tallies, listing it “AUS ZEALAND”, pictured above. AUS ZEALAND?! WTF?! The combined totals would have been ninth place—if such a country actually existed.

    The actual medal tables the paper published online today (Day 9) showed New Zealand still leading at 14, with Australia far below, at 24.

    The thing is, both countries’ medal tallies could very well change before the games conclude, so the Aussies may yet pull ahead. But the thing that gets me about this is that if your look at the totals for ALL medals won, Australia was way ahead of New Zealand after yesterday: 1 gold, 12 silver and 7 bronze for a total of 20 medals. While New Zealand had 3 gold, it had no silver and 4 bronze, for a total of 7—just over a third of Australia’s totals.

    All of which makes Australia look not only rather petty, but also more than a little obsessive about victory: Gold is great, but all Olympic medals should be celebrated. After all, not many of us could manage to compete, much less win a medal of any colour.

    But one thing this did do was create a big laugh on this side of the Tasman. Sadly, we were actually laughing AT the Aussies, not with them—and not at their medal tally, either, but because they’re being so silly about it.

    Oh well, we’re used to it—and we do like beating the Aussies, of course.

    Sunday, August 05, 2012

    The people DO decide

    It sounds so simple, so innocent, almost wholesome, even: Let the people vote in a referendum on marriage equality—let the people decide. Gosh, who could be against that?

    Everyone should be against that.

    It is offensive in the extreme to ever put minority rights up for majority vote. If the minority didn’t face people who disliked them—as well as, sadly, some who actually felt hatred, bigotry or prejudice—then there would never be a controversy in the first place and no one would insist on a referendum. Instead, it’s precisely because a minority is, at least, disliked by many that some politicians want to put a minority’s rights up for a vote.

    Some of New Zealand’s opponents of marriage equality have argued that the question of allowing loving same-gender couples to have the same commitment in marriage as opposite-gender couples have is “too important” to allow mere politicians to decide, and instead the people should decide directly. That’s deliberately deceptive and those politicians and activists know it: The people already decide.

    Who elects Members of Parliament? The people. Who do Members of Parliament serve? The people. Who are Members of Parliament answerable to? The people. The whole point of representative democracy is that we elect people to act on our behalf—all of us, the popular and the unpopular alike. In exchange for a reasonably generous salary, we expect MPs do to the jobs we’ve given them, and to make the hard decisions.

    Whenever MPs do something we don’t like, we fire them by defeating them for re-election. We do that all the time, for all sorts of reasons, big and small. However, the advocates of a referendum on this one issue know that MPs won’t be voted out for supporting marriage equality because a majority of New Zealanders support it.

    Aside from elections, there’s another way in which the people have a voice: Through submissions. This is always used when a Member’s Bill (like the marriage equality bill is) passes its First Reading, and it’s often used even for Government bills, too. If people have a persuasive enough argument, their submission to Parliament may sway MPs’ votes. And, because this is a democracy, all sides and views will be considered. This is the mechanism through which the people of New Zealand can express their opinions on pending legislation directly to Parliament, and they can use it nearly all the time, not just on this one issue.

    For this issue, however, there’s a third way for the people to be heard: Direct lobbying of Members of Parliament. The vote on marriage equality will be a “conscience vote,” that is, nearly all MPs will be free to vote as their consciences dictate, without having to vote the way their party caucus decides. So, people are free to write to Members of Parliament expressing their opinion on the bill, and the MPs will take voters’ opinions into account. Some MPs may even meet with their local constituents to hear their views, whether individually or in public meetings. This kind of personal interaction between the people and Members of Parliament on a particular issue doesn’t usually happen—there’s not usually any point in personal lobbying apart from on bills with “conscience votes”, like this one issue.

    So, the people DO decide, and we all have a voice: We decide, first, who represents us in Parliament; if we don’t like what they do, we vote them out. Second, when Parliament considers a bill like this, we can make a submission on it to express our opinions directly to all the Members of Parliament. Third, because this will be a “conscience vote”, we can also lobby Members of Parliament directly on the issue, which is usually pointless. Add it all up and this one issue allows for far more public say than usual.

    Because the people of New Zealand DO decide, we know that the call for a referendum can’t actually be about democracy—and it’s not. Sadly, it’s all about crass politics: Some politicians and rightwing activists want a referendum to help them recruit supporters and financial contributions. Others think they can manipulate a referendum campaign to get the results they could never get through the normal democratic legislative process (this has happened several times in the United States, for example). So the backers of a referendum aren’t really backing one for the sake of democracy or the people, but rather only for themselves and their own self-interest.

    The next time politicians puffs out their chests and declare, “the people should decide!” simply remind them: We already do!

    Previous posts in this series:

    Marriage is not being ‘redefined’
    Why civil unions aren’t enough
    There is no ‘slippery slope’

    Next up: Religious and personal freedom alike

    Saturday, August 04, 2012

    There is no ‘slippery slope’

    You would think that there’s one argument that the opponents of marriage equality wouldn’t make because it’s so laughably silly. In New Zealand, however, it’s emerged as one of their main arguments against marriage equality. So, let’s get this clear: There’s no such thing as a “slippery slope”.

    It’s almost possible to feel the desperation as our opponents attempt to convince mainstream New Zealanders that if loving same-gender couples are permitted to commit to each other in the same way that opposite-gender couples can, then it must inevitably mean we’ll have to allow, in the words of a writer in a rightwing American publication quoted by our opponents, “legalized polygamy and ‘polyamory’ (group marriage).” That’s utter nonsense.

    In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the modern world to extend some form of legal recognition to the relationships of loving same-gender couples when they established “Registered Partnerships”. In 2012, they joined the growing list of countries that have established full marriage equality. The fact is, in the generation since the establishment of at least some legal recognition of same-gender couples’ relationships, no country has legalised polygamy or polyamory—not one. Our opponents may claim that people are saying it should be legalised, but that only acknowledges their freedom to advocate anything in a democratic society—it’s not the same thing as enacting it in law!

    Allowing loving same-gender couples to marry means they’ll have the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-gender couples—no changes to any other law are required to allow all loving couples to marry. However, to allow marriages with multiple partners, dozens of laws would also have to be changed, everything from inheritance, to child custody, next-of-kin recognition—all of these things and many more would require separate law changes, and that means an entirely new institution. None of that is true when allowing same-gender couples to marry, so there’s absolutely no truth the claim that marriage equality “has” to mean legalised group marriages.

    This line of argument is not only dishonest and misleading, it’s also hypocritical. Our rightwing opponents in New Zealand frequently cite the fact that some people on our side of the debate sometimes argue for polygamy or polyandry, but they never mention that there are plenty of heterosexuals who do as well. They’re certainly not arguing that heterosexuals should be forbidden to marry because some of them advocate for polygamy or polyamory. Funny, that.

    The reality is, all citizens have the right to advocate for what they believe in—not just us, and not just our opponents. This freedom of expression is one of the most prized and fiercely protected rights in free and democratic societies, as well it should be. A free society can certainly handle debate on issues, and those who want polygamy or polyamory are certainly free to present their case. Whether they do or not has nothing whatsoever to do with marriage equality for same-gender couples.

    New Zealand’s current Marriage Act limits marriage to two people who must be (by implication) of opposite genders, and it forbids marriage among close relatives. Our opponents argue that if loving same-gender couples are allowed to marry, therefore the ban not only on multiple marriages, but also the ban on incestuous marriage must also be removed because it, too, is discrimination. But if their argument was really valid, then it would be valid regardless of whether or not same-gender couples are forbidden to marry. However, no court has ever agreed with their claim, and extending marriage to loving same-gender couples would not change that reality: The proposed bill does nothing to take away the prohibition of close-relative marriage.

    Finally, it’s highly offensive to suggest that loving same-gender couples’ relationships are not in any way the same as those of opposite gender couples’, that our relationships can only be compared to polygamy or polyamory or—in the case of our more extreme opponents—those who want to “marry” an animal or their toaster. All of these claims are simply distractions designed to scare people, and they’re all utter nonsense.

    So, when New Zealand enacts marriage equality, the only “slippery slope” will be the one leading to happiness and greater well-being for all loving, committed couples who choose to marry.

    Previous posts in this series:

    Marriage is not being ‘redefined'
    Why civil unions aren’t enough

    Next up: The people DO decide

    Thursday, August 02, 2012

    Why civil unions aren’t enough

    One of the tactics opponents of marriage equality use here in New Zealand is to suggest that since New Zealand already has civil unions, that’s good enough for same-gender couples. They ask, isn’t that a way for government to legally recognise the commitment, rights and responsibilities of same-gender couples? Why does it have to be marriage? It’s because marriage matters.

    Marriage equality means that loving same-gender couples can legally commit to each other through marriage in the same way that opposite-gender couples can. It means government legally recognising that commitment, along with the rights and responsibilities involved, and in particular that every level of government and society understands that word and what’s involved. Civil unions don’t have that in full, or sometimes at all.

    The biggest difference between marriage and civil unions in New Zealand is that a married couple can adopt children, while a couple in a civil union cannot. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t about what’s sometimes called “stranger adoption,” that is, where a couple adopts a child to whom neither partner is related. Instead, this is mainly about modern blended families in which the child is related to one or both parents, but perhaps legally to neither or only one. So, loving families in which the partners are in a civil union could be torn apart if the “legal” parent dies or becomes incapacitated. This makes civil union families potentially at great risk, something that could be taken care of it they were married.

    Of course the other big difference between the two is that both same-gender and opposite-gender couples can enter into a civil union, but only opposite gender couples can marry. So, only opposite-gender couples can achieve full legal security for their families, but same-gender couples cannot. That makes no sense.

    Countries around the world recognise marriage for immigration purposes, but many, like the United States, don’t recognise anything but marriage. Couples in a civil union could be considered—legally—strangers if they chose to emigrate. Current US law forbids recognising same-gender marriages for any federal purpose, but that law will soon be struck down or repealed. Once it is, it’s probable that only married same-gender couples will be considered for immigration by the US government. The same will likely be true for other countries. So, while opposite-gender couples in a civil union can always marry in order to change their immigration status, same-gender couples cannot.

    We often hear about how bizarre this is, the idea that the government would deliberately allow obvious and blatant discrimination against some of its own citizens. The argument goes, gay people work hard and pay their taxes like everyone else, so why shouldn’t they be treated equally? Of course they should be, but the issue here isn’t only human rights and equality, it’s that same-gender couples and their families are put at real risk and suffer real harm simply because the government won’t allow them to marry.

    Another thing our opponents say is that enacting marriage equality is some sort of insult to those in a civil union. How, exactly? Opposite-gender couples can convert their civil unions into a marriage if they wish; only same-gender couples cannot. When marriage equality is enacted, all couples will have the choice of how their relationship will be treated—de facto, civil union or marriage. That means that all loving couples will be able to choose the recognition that works best for their families. How is that an insult to those in a civil union?

    Opponents also sometimes trot out some gay person who raises an objection to marriage, as if that says anything about, well, anything. There are plenty of heterosexuals who object to marriage, too! For example, I’ve seen heterosexual leftists going on and on about how marriage is bad according to their political ideology. Why is it a surprise that some gay people also reject marriage? That’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the option of marriage. After all, no one is suggesting that heterosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry because some of them reject marriage!

    So, when marriage equality is enacted, all that will happen is that loving same-gender couples will be able to make the same legal and public commitment to each other as opposite-gender couples already can, and those families will no longer be artificially put at risk of real harm. Couples will be able to choose the recognition of their commitment to each other that works best for their families and values, and those churches that strongly object to marriage equality can freely ignore it within their churches.

    Marriage equality is really about all people being treated with respect by their government so their families can get on with their lives. And that is enough.

    Previously: Marriage is not being 'redefined'

    Next up: There is no ‘slippery slope’

    Wednesday, August 01, 2012

    C is for The Commonwealth

    The Commonwealth is the world’s second-largest organisation of nations. With 54 member countries, and a third of the world’s population, it’s a pretty big deal.

    The Commonwealth has its origins in the British Empire, though two member states were never part of the Empire (do you know which two? Answer at the end), and several countries that were part of the Empire chose not to join the Commonwealth upon independence. In 1884, a British politician, Lord Rosebury, visited Australia and suggested that the empire was becoming a “Commonwealth of Nations.” This is said to be where the name originated.

    By then, Canada had already become a Dominion (in 1867), a status that implied equality with the United Kingdom. It was followed by several other countries: Australia (1901), New Zealand (1907), South Africa (1910) and the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland, 1922). All countries participated separately in World War One (apart from Ireland, which was not yet a country), and signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

    After World War One, the Dominions were looking to form a new constitutional structure to replace the old Empire. At the Imperial Conference in 1926, they adopted the Balfour Declaration, which reaffirmed the Dominions’ status as separate and equal nations who shared a common allegiance to the British Crown.

    This was codified into law when the UK Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster in 1931. It applied to Canada automatically, but it had to be ratified by Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland (then not part of Canada) for it to take effect. Newfoundland never adopted it because it dissolved its government in 1934 and became Canada’s tenth province in 1949. Australia ratified it in 1942, New Zealand in 1947. The British Commonwealth was born.

    On April 28, 1949, the London Declaration dropped the word “British” from the name. This is considered to be the beginning of the modern Commonwealth. They also agreed that when India became an independent republic in 1950, it could remain in the Commonwealth even though the British Monarch would no longer be its Head of State. This was an issue because in 1948 the Republic of Ireland renounced the sovereignty of the British Crown and left the Commonwealth.

    Today several republics are Commonwealth members, and even those that still have the same monarch as the UK (such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand), nevertheless have a separate legal identity for the monarch (the current monarch is Queen of Canada, Queen of New Zealand and Queen of Australia, in those respective countries, and not Queen of the United Kingdom). The Queen is Head of the Commonwealth, a position symbolic of the free association of the member nations. When the Queen dies, her successor will not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth.

    Commonwealth member countries don't consider each other foreign in many respects. This is why Commonwealth countries send a High Commissioner rather than an ambassador to other Commonwealth members. Similarly, Commonwealth countries have a High Commission and not an embassy in each other's countries.

    The Commonwealth has shared beliefs and values:
    The Commonwealth believes the best democracies are achieved through partnerships – of governments, business, and civil society.

    Beyond the ties of history, language and institutions, members are united through the association’s values of: democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all.

    These values were agreed and set down by all Commonwealth Heads of Government at two of their biennial meetings (known as CHOGMs) in Singapore in 1971 and reaffirmed in Harare in 1991.
    The Commonwealth currently has two main goals: Peace and Democracy, and Pro-Poor Growth and Sustainable Development. There are specific programmes to help achieve those goals.

    One of the major events of the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth Games, also known as “The Friendly Games”, and the third-largest sporting event in the world (after the Olympics and the Asian Games). 71 teams participate because many dependencies participate under their own flags, as do the four “home nations” of the UK: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is held every four years, the next being in Glasgow in 2014. The last to be held in New Zealand were in Auckland in 1990. It’s probably unlikely that they’ll ever be held here again due to the cost and size of the event.

    Commonwealth Day, the annual celebration of the Commonwealth, is observed on the second Monday in March with activities in London and around the world. Still, it’s not a public holiday in most Commonwealth countries and most people in them know little or nothing about it.

    And finally, those two member countries that have no historic ties to Britain: Mozambique became the first country with no colonial links to Britain to join the Commonwealth in 1995. In 2009, Rwanda became the 54th member of the Commonwealth. Predominantly Francophone Cameroon also joined in 1995, however, it incorporated the former British Cameroon, so it does have colonial ties to Britain.

    The illiustration at the top of this post is the Commonwealth flag; as a flag, it is in the public domain.

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

    Caught up

    This hasn’t been one of my better years for blogging: I just haven’t been able to “keep up”. Things are better now.

    I have a goal of averaging one blog post per day. That doesn’t mean that I post every day, just that it averages out to that. I “catch up” by posting several times in one day, something that’s made easier on days when there’s a lot I want to comment on or share.

    Despite hitting my goal in January, I missed the target in February (must’ve been because of Leap Year…), March and April. May, June and July let me catch up and pull slightly ahead, something I’ve already continued this month.

    I like running ahead of my goal as a sort of buffer against those inevitable times in which I’m too busy to post anything, or else don’t have access for some reason. What I haven’t yet mastered is writing posts in advance, either for planned/scheduled posting, or for those times when I don’t have time to post (or can’t think of anything to write about; it happens).

    In any case, things are back on track. We’ll see how long that lasts!

    Marriage is not being ‘redefined’

    As we work to enact marriage equality in New Zealand, we’ll hear a lot of nonsense from opponents. We know from overseas experience that their arguments will include misstatements, misleading assertions and, sadly, outright falsehoods. None of that can be allowed to remain unchallenged.

    The most frequent falsehood used by our opponents is to declare that marriage equality means “redefining” marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The question is simple: Should government allow loving same-gender couples to make the same legal and public commitment to each other as opposite-gender couples can? That’s it. This is simply about allowing all loving adult couples to legally and publicly commit to each other.

    Nearly all of the opposition to allowing loving same-gender couples to have this legal commitment to each other is based on religious objection, and that’s fine: People are entitled to have and express their religious views, regardless of whether many—or any—other people agree with them.

    The good news for such religious people is that absolutely nothing will change for them. Churches will still be able to refuse to perform weddings for any couples they don’t approve of, and the state has nothing to say about that. In fact, it’s none of government’s business who a church performs weddings for.

    Think of it this way: Different Christian churches have different views on baptism: Some baptise infants, others only baptise adults. Government doesn’t get involved in telling churches who they can baptise, and doesn’t declare who is or is not baptised. In the same way, government won’t tell churches what couples they must perform weddings for.

    However, the fact that a particular church may abhor homosexuality generally, or may simply reject allowing same-gender couples to marry, should not prevent other churches from performing weddings for same-gender couples. For government to prevent such churches from performing weddings for same-gender couples because other churches disapprove is blatant religious discrimination, and it’s no different than government telling Christian churches who they can and cannot baptise.

    This whole issue is easily muddled because the distinction between civil marriage and religious weddings is often blurred. Marriage is a legal and governmental function, carrying a whole bunch of rights and responsibilities. When a couple gets married, they make a legal commitment to each other that’s instantly understood and recognised by government, the courts and public institutions such as hospitals and schools. It is a civil, secular matter.

    The religious marriage rite, commonly called a wedding, is the business of churches, which they alone regulate. Government authorises churches to perform legal marriages on its behalf, but the authority to do so comes from the state; the church’s authority to perform a religious wedding is based on that church’s particular beliefs and has nothing to do with government. After all, no one is legally required to have a church wedding and, in fact, plenty of people choose to be married in an entirely secular, non-religious ceremony.

    So, marriage equality simply means that government is recognising, valuing and encouraging commitment of two individuals who love each other. That’s not a “redefinition”, it’s in inclusive reaffirmation.

    I’ll elaborate on many of the topics raised in this post, along with delving into plenty of others raised by our opponents, in future posts. All of these will be grouped under a new tag, NZ Marriage Equality. Next up: Why civil unions aren’t enough.