Friday, May 31, 2013

Right about the right?

In this video from TPM, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is dismissive of rightwing media on MSNBC’s most conservative show, Morning Joe. His remarks were not warmly embraced. Maybe that was another of his points.

I don’t know that I would have put things quite the way Dean did, but his distinction between conservatives and rightwingers is a valid one. Like most on the centre left, I use “rightwinger” as a pejorative term, and “conservative” as a more generic term for people whose ideology is the opposite of mine, but who are not rigid, authoritarian (even arrogant) ideologues like rightwingers are.

We don’t get MSNBC in New Zealand, so I’ve never seen a full Morning Joe, only clips (including from the MSNBC site, not just from those analysing or criticising the show). I haven’t liked what I’ve seen, though not because it leans rightward or because the host, Joe Scarborough, is a conservative. I don’t like it because Joe often comes across as an arrogant prick, and if I wanted to watch that, I could tune into Fox “News” at any time (though I don’t, of course).

In any event, it takes some fierce conviction to be willing to take on Joe and his crew.

Good riddance

I’m delighted that the batshit crazy Republican US Representative Michele Bachmann has announced she’s not seeking re-election in 2014, choosing to jump before she’s pushed. This video has some of her golden moments.

Bachmann is quitting because she would’ve lost a re-election bid, not just for being batshit crazy, but also because she’s facing several different investigations for alleged criminal ethics violations. By jumping out of the race, however, she avoids the humiliation of defeat while also improving the chances for Republicans to not just hold her seat, but also the US House generally. In fact, without her far right extremism to point to, she’s helping Republican candidates in general seem less scary.

Sadly, however, there’s no shortage of equally batshit crazy Republicans in the US Congress to take over the leadership mantel from her. A few of them are even intelligent enough to put words together more or less sensibly for them to be interviewed on television, so we may be laughing and entertained as much by them as we were by her. But the threat to freedom and democracy posed by the extreme end of the Republican Party will remain after Bachmann quits.

Upon reflection, I shouldn’t use the term “batshit” as an adjective to describe Republicans like Bachmann. It’s offensive to associate bats and their excrement with Republican politicians. I apologise to bats everywhere.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Things get interesting

Here’s another in my occasional posting of New Zealand TV commercials, this one for the VW 'Amarok', their first ute.

I’m posting it for two reasons: First, I think the presenter is adorable (that never hurts). But the main reason is that it’s such an “out there” commercial: The subject matter isn’t what you’d expect in a commercial for any vehicle, let alone one typically used for work (like farming). But the tagline, “the thinking man’s ute” shows why they took this tack. I think it works quite well. And the presenter is easy on the eyes, which is nice.

The ad is actually from a year ago, but they recently started running it again. It’s from DDB New Zealand and film company Robber’s Dog (do yourself a favour and check out their site).

Monday, May 27, 2013

The origins of AmeriNZ

I’ve often posted about my own personal origins, stories from my life and so on, but it turns out I’ve never written about where the name “AmeriNZ” came from. It’s time I corrected that oversight.

The graphic at the top of this post is from what I call my “portal site”, and it shows how to pronounce the name; it’s sort of like “AMMerins”. It’s actually basically a contraction of “American In New Zealand”. I think most people know, or have guessed, what the name is made from, but to this day, people have trouble pronouncing it. In fact, that became an issue at one point.

My original intent for the name was as the title for a specialty magazine for American expats living in New Zealand. When I came up with the idea, I was working for a small printing/publishing company, and it seemed viable—until I found out how few American expats lived in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, I always remembered the name.

In 1999, we were planning a trip to the US and I wanted a web email address so I could communicate without having to access my real address from an Internet cafĂ©, or whatever they had back then. I still have that email address, and it’s the one I use for this blog.

A few years later, I started thinking about producing an electronic magazine instead of a print one (part of the original cover concept is below, just placed on a photo I happened to have on my computer). At the time, I was very interested in Adobe’s restricted PDFs—basically ones that had a version of digital rights management. That’s pretty ironic, considering how enthusiastic I eventually became for open source and Creative Commons.

The idea of doing a magazine of any sort faded away, and for a lot of reasons, including how much Adobe was charging for the necessary software, and because in those pre-iPad days, I didn’t think anyone would want to read a magazine on their computer.

Nothing more happened with the name for years.

In 2006, I was getting ready to launch this blog, and of course I knew what I’d call it. However, the original name was just AmeriNZ; I changed it to AmeriNZ Blog a few years later to distinguish it from my AmeriNZ Podcast.

So, I had the email address, and the blog, both with the AmeriNZ name, so it made sense to use it as an online identity. I used it as my “nom du blog” for posts here, for comments on other sites, and when I signed up for social media—MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. It became my personal brand.

The weirdest experience for me in all the time I used that name was when I was part of a sometimes heated debate in the comments on a leftist political site. It happened because of pronunciation.

One of my leftist adversaries said I should change my nickname because it made me sound like I was an American Nazi. I was dumfounded, and probably said “WTF” out loud (but not as initials). I finally figured out that she, an American, was pronouncing the NZ part as the letters, and in the American way: “enn zee”. You’d have to try, but I suppose it’s possible to convolute “enn zee” into “nazi”. Naturally, I relished the chance to school the leftist on how not all the world uses the American “zee”, and how it was actually a “zed”, but wasn’t said that way, anyway. Coincidentally, perhaps, that was the last time I commented on that site.

Anyway, times changed. I wanted to claim my stuff in my own name, and I started cutting back on the use of the name to refer to me, as opposed to the content I produced. That’s still progressing.

So, the AmeriNZ name went from being a name for a possible publication, then another, to being the name for this blog, podcast and my other online activities, to now being, basically, my personal brand. The name AmeriNZ has had a pretty exciting life, really.

But maybe I should have come up with one that was easier to pronounce.

The original concept art for AmeriNZ, which was to be an e-zine. It never happened.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's time, Illinois

It’s time for Illinois to enact the freedom to marry. But time to do so any time soon is running out.

The graphic above is from Illinois Unites for Marriage, a project of ACLU Illinois, Equality Illinois and Lambda Legal. Together, they’re trying to bring the freedom to marry to my native Illinois. I hope they succeed.

They said on their site’s action page:
We only have until Friday, May 31st to pass the freedom to marry. It's time, Illinois.

Passing SB10 in the House is the only hurdle that stands between Illinois becoming the 13th state where same-sex couples can share in the freedom to marry—and we only have a matter of days left to pass this crucial legislation before the General Assembly adjourns on May 31st.

Your Representative needs to hear from you every single day until marriage for same-sex couples becomes law in Illinois! Even if you've messaged them before, they need to hear from you again.
I was born in Illinois, grew up there, was educated there and became an adult there. My parents are buried there. So, I’ll always be an Illinoisan, even though I don’t live there, and regardless of whether or not I ever live there again. However, because I don’t live there, I have no say in what happens. I hope the people who do live in Illinois urge their legislators to do the right thing and vote for the freedom to marry.

It’s time, Illinois.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Five years of better sight

I commemorate all sorts of anniversaries on this blog, so I have no idea how I missed this: May 8 was the fifth anniversary of my Lasik eye surgery. That time has passed in the blink of an eye (sorry…).

I took the photo of me at left using my iMac (which I don’t even have anymore) the evening after my surgery. It accompanied a brief post about the surgery that I typed while wearing those goggles. I don’t know why I didn’t mention this at the time, but I was barely able to see as I typed, partly because of the goggles, but also because I couldn’t yet focus very well, especially on close things, and because bright light (like a glowing computer screen) made my eyes water and sting a bit. All of which is the real reason that post was so short.

In the years since the surgery, the “starbursts” I sometimes saw have diminished greatly, or maybe I just don’t notice them anymore. Same with the “halos” I saw around some lights, but I know those are still there.

Overall, my vision has remained pretty stable, though some days are better than others (usually depending on how tired I am). All the benefits I mentioned in the posts after the surgery are still true.

The only bad thing about my vision has nothing whatsoever to do with the surgery: Good old presbyopia (age-related vision decline) has set in. I can’t read much at all without reading glasses, though off-the-shelf ones with the lowest possible strength (+1) have been just fine for me. Sometimes, however, I need to use a magnifying glass, too, for very small type or when contrast is bad or lighting levels are too low. I think that I may eventually need somewhat stronger reading glasses.

Had I not had the surgery, I’d still have the presbyopia, only I’d be wearing bifocals now. That was something I was determined to never do, and the surgery meant I wouldn’t have to.

So, five years on, I still have the one regret that I had at the time: I wish I’d done it sooner.

Related posts:

In recovery (mentioned and linked-to above)
Seeing again for the first time
AmeriNZ 88 - Seeing again for the first time – my podcast episode on the surgery
One month, still good
Super Vision – After my final post-surgery check-up

Working behind the curtains

Blogging isn’t an event—it’s a process. It includes writing, then editing and finally publishing posts, though other things like research can be included, too. The point is, posts just don’t appear out of thin air.

Maintaining this blog is a bit like that for me, too: It’s not self-perpetuating. In fact, I spend quite a lot of time tinkering around behind the curtains, fixing things that have gone wrong, streamlining things, adding or deleting things. It, too, is a process.

Today, I was searching this blog for something, and ended up doing something else (that happens fairly often, actually). Because of that search, I saw one of the posts with shownotes for my podcast (back when they were hosted here). I noticed the artwork (what’s usually called “cover art” or even “album art”) was missing from those posts.

One day quite some time ago, I was going through my blog pictures/graphics on Picassa, Google’s image storing service where all graphics posted in Blogger posts are stored. I noticed that sometimes there were two (or more) versions of the same thing, usually because I uploaded something, deleted it to change it and re-uploaded it. So, I started clearing them out, but among the things I deleted were several copies of the podcast artwork I thought weren’t being used; it turned out, obviously, one or more of those copies were used in those old posts.

So today I went and copied the HTML code for a copy that was still in use and pasted it in place of the original code. However, it also meant I had to update the links to the actual podcast episode, too (clicking on the artwork takes readers to the post on my podcast site). Time consuming, but not difficult.

I had two thoughts while I was doing this. The first was about how I used to be a little uneasy about editing old posts, but now I do it all the time (usually just for style/appearance).

The second thought was a little different: I wish that when I set up my podcast site, I knew what I know now. If I did, I’d have exported the contents of this blog (up to that point) and then imported it into the new site (which is, of course, a blog). If I had done that, all of the original comments would have been on those posts (and I could have deleted all the non-podcast posts). Because I didn’t do that, all those old posts that I reposted to the new site have no comments. The history of my podcast is fractured, and I regret that.

Still, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? I’d do things differently now, and will, if I ever change the hosting company for my podcast. The larger point, though, is that as I’ve learned more about the stuff behind the curtains, I can do more, so I do more. Actually, none of this would have happened at all if I’d known how to copy the HTML code for those old posts so they’d all link to the same graphic.

Blogging is a process. So is blog maintenance. The first often leads to the second, as it did today. At least it keeps me learning stuff; I like that.

Bad deal

What does it profit NZ to gain a convention centre, but lose its own soul? What price—social or taxpayer-funded—is too high?

The National Party-led Government recently announced a deal that will see a $402 million (roughly US$325 million today) “international convention centre” built in Auckland by a private casino company. National’s “Minister in Charge of Everything”, Steven Joyce, joyfully declared that this won’t cost taxpayers or ratepayers a cent!

Which is not to say it’s actually free, of course, despite Joyce’s breathless cheerleading—nothing ever is.

In exchange for building the convention centre, SkyCity Entertainment Group (which owns Auckland’s casino and Sky Tower, among other things) will have its casino license extended by 27 years, and they’ll also get a 35-year contract to run the convention centre. They say these are necessary to show stability to potential lenders and such. That may possibly be true, but it’s not all they got, of course.

SkyCity will be permitted to add 230 pokies (slot machines), including “cashless” ones and more machines that can take notes higher than $20. They’ll also get 50 more gaming tables.

The National/Act Government will push through the required law changes under urgency so that the people of New Zealand have no opportunity to have their say on the scheme. The license extension itself would normally require an independent assessment and provide an opportunity for people to have a say. None of that will be allowed to happen.

Even worse, National plans to include in the law a provision that if at any time in the next 35 years a future government changes the gaming laws—like, for example, increasing taxes on casinos, then SkyCity will be compensated by New Zealand taxpayers to ensure that the casino doesn’t lose any profits.

To ensure that Auckland citizens and ratepayers get no say in any of this, SkyCity wants their resource consent application to be “non-notified”, which means that no one can object. They argue that since National announced their intention to do a deal before the election, therefore, Aucklanders already had a say. Um, newsflash to the SkyCity boardroom: That’s not how democracy works. The people—real, live, voting people—are supposed to call the shots in this country, not corporations.

It was probably a bad idea for SkyCity to bring up the fact that this deal has been in the works for years, because while government ministers didn’t engage in criminal activity in negotiating the deal, the Auditor-General said that the Government's dealings with SkyCity "fell short of good practice in a number of respects". Chief among them, the government gave SkyCity information that other bidders in the process did not receive. So, while the current government’s backroom dealing over this scheme was apparently perfectly legal, it was clearly, as Labour Leader David Shearer put it, “shonky”.

Of course, taxpayer money going to SkyCity and a lack of democracy are only the starters in this mess: The social costs will be enormous.

I doubt anyone apart from the current government (and SkyCity) actually takes the promise of some mostly unspecified “harm minimisation” seriously. Experts in dealing with problem gambling say that some of the proposed changes will actually make problem gambling worse by making it easier for gambling addicts to gamble away their money.

Steven Joyce correctly noted that gambling is legal, but launched into his typical arrogant dickhead mode by declaring, "Nobody's clamouring to remove Lotto or remove all those other things that involve gaming." Actually, some people are clamouring to remove those: Auckland has a “sinking lid” policy on pokies, and Lotto is not the game of choice for problem gamblers; Joyce ought to know that already.

Actually, one of the problems with this deal is that “sinking lid” policy. It will mean that pokies located in pubs and clubrooms will reduce in number, even as SkyCity increases theirs. That’s a problem because the profits from pub pokies go to charity to support community organisations. SkyCity’s profits go to their overseas owners, not community organisations (a little bit of corporate charity giving notwithstanding).

So, what we have is the current government selling the law—again—to help increase corporate profits. This government is willing to tie the hands of future governments to make sure that corporations can keep those increased profits. The increase in gambling opportunities—which the government admits is where SkyCity will make its money in this deal—will create more problems for those least able to pay (problem gambling in New Zealand is especially prevalent in lower socio-economic groups). And, everyone will lose out because community groups will slowly be starved of funding.

This is a very bad deal, but apparently we can’t do anything about it: The National/Act Government have stacked the deck against ordinary New Zealanders. This is just another example of how they bet against the people of this country, putting corporate interests ahead of those of ordinary people. We need a change of government.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Two minds

Heard the expression, “of two minds”? That’s me: My reaction to today’s committee vote on “comprehensive” immigration reform is split. Neither is particularly positive.

When I wrote about this bill last month, it was to note that it seemed likely that LGBT married couples would be dropped from the proposed immigration reform bill in the US Senate because Republicans demanded it. I said back then…
“When the infamous Defense [sic] of Marriage Act is repealed or struck down, then legally married LGBT couples will be treated the same as any other married couple for immigration purposes. We don’t need immigration reform for this, we just need a wise Supreme Court or a—what’s the word?—sensible Congress to make this happen. It can be done, and it must be done.”
What I should have added is that the first is a BIG “if” and the second an impossibility for the foreseeable future—at least a decade, maybe more. So, if the Supreme Court is not wise and upholds DOMA, then legally married binational LGBT couples could continue to endure blatant and deliberate discrimination for a generation.

Today Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) withdrew his amendment to the immigration reform bill. The amendment would have included legally married same gender couples. Republicans said that if the amendment was added, they’d kill the entire bill.

So the four other Democrats on the committee, brave, principled lot that they are, utterly surrendered to the Republican bullying, abandoning principle along with LGBT voters. They did it, they said, to win immigration reform, vowing to fight for LGBT people some other day in an undefined future time.

If they were right, and their capitulation would save immigration reform, I could almost forgive Democrats for their utter surrender. After all, there’s still the chance that the Supreme Court will rule correctly on DOMA, making all this moot. And, undocumented single LGBT people will be silent participants in any programme for undocumented people generally (though I have no doubt that Republicans would absolutely seek to specifically exclude LGBT people if they could).

Nevertheless, I cannot forgive the four Democrats who betrayed their party and LGBT voters; they were: Send Dick Durbin (IL), Sen. Diane Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY). My contempt for those Democrats isn’t simply because, yet again, they caved and surrendered utterly to the Republicans for nothing in return, bad as their typical cowardice and lack of principle is. The simple reason their pathetic behaviour is so galling this time is that the bill will never pass Congress, with protections for LGBT married couples or without them.

Republicans don’t want immigration reform. They dislike Hispanics, particularly undocumented ones, almost as much as they despise LGBT people. They have no interest in doing the right thing for either group. The US House is controlled by the far right extremists elected in 2010, and they will defeat the immigration reform bill. Republicans in the US Senate are little better. So, the bill will fail in the House and if I were to bet, I’d say it will probably even fail in the Senate (where Republicans define a simple majority as being 60 of the 100 votes).

Of course, for Republicans, theirs was a no-lose position: They forced Democrats to choose between different parts of their base, namely, Hispanic voters and LGBT voters. Either way, Republicans calculated, they couldn’t possibly lose.

Republicans knew that if Democrats surrendered their principles yet again, and threw LGBT couples under the bus, it would infuriate parts of the Democratic base. On the other hand, if Democrats had stood firm on principle for a change, then Republicans would kill the bill and make Hispanic voters angry at Democrats for not getting the bill through in order to please LGBT voters.

Dividing the Democratic base only helps Republicans, of course, by driving down the voter turnout for Democrats. And contributions. Because Republicans are a minority, they need to suppress Democratic votes, and diving the base is one way to do that.

But it’s not a very smart way. Hispanic voters are not anti-gay, as Republicans assume. If they had killed the bill, even conservative Hispanics would have been unlikely to thank Republicans for standing firm against the homosexual hordes; more likely, they’d have been angry at Republicans for blocking immigration reform over that one issue.

And what of our “friends” in the Democratic Party? With friends like these, eh? They betray us so often because they believe that LGBT voters have nowhere else to go: The Republican opponent is almost without exception far worse than our cowardly “friend”. They don’t even try to take a stand on principle because they’re so sure of our automatic loyalty.

Times are changing.

Progressives—real progressives—are starting to mount primary challenges to supposedly “liberal” Democrats. Our side is also beginning to make contributions dependent on results, not rhetoric. In other words, real Democrats are starting to demand that Democratic politicians start behaving as Democrats, not as kinder, gentler Republicans.

For everyone’s sake—including the Republican bullies, actually—I hope the Supreme Court does strike down DOMA to put this matter to an end. Right now, it’s the only remaining hope that tens of thousands of LGBT Americans have, thanks to four cowardly Democrats.

So, I’m of two minds. First, the Democrats were foolish and cowardly, and I won’t make any excuses for them. However, IF the Supreme Court does the right thing, then all this will be moot. And, IF the Republicans also suddenly embrace some sort of immigration reform and pass the NON-comprehensive immigration reform bill, then the end result will be a good one. But those are a lot of ifs!

Will we see any good come of this mess? I don’t know. I’m of two minds about it.

A postscript: I went to the Facebook page for Sen. Dick Durbin. As one of his constituents, I thought I might possibly leave a respectful expression of my disappointment in him. What I saw were comments from unhinged homophobic bigots, racists, far right crackpots of every description and more displays of mental illness and social psychosis than I’ve ever seen in one place (apart from far right websites’ comments, of course). The fact that those people expressed their hatred(s) so publicly kind of worries me; fortunately, many didn’t seem to actually be from Illinois. That’s one good thing, I guess. I didn't leave a comment—I felt soiled enough already.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Interruptions continue

Our Internet connection continues to be disrupted and interrupted. When I do have a connection, I often don’t feel like blogging. Unlike my friend Roger Green, I seldom write posts in advance, so if I don’t feel like blogging on the day, nothing gets posted. I really must be more proactive.

I’ve also realised that the weird feelings I described last week turned out to be caused, at least in part, by feeling a bit sick. Nothing specific, just kind of icky. Probably change of seasons and all that. Whatever the cause, it, too, makes me feel like blogging is too hard some of the time.

And all that means that my posts will continue to be a bit sporadic for some time yet.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

More evidence

A few days ago, I wrote about how the radical right is losing their war against LGBT people. A couple days before that, I noted how marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. Today I saw further evidence of both.

Last week, ThinkProgress took a look at an anti-gay group called the Alliance Defending [sic] Freedom [sic] (ADF), which used to be called the Alliance Defense Fund. ThinkProgress noted how they presented testimony to several state legislatures in an attempt to stop the legislatures enacting marriage equality. They failed every time.

They were undone by the typical dishonesty used by the radical right as it tries to restrict freedom for LGBT people: They constantly argued that marriage equality would lead to “Christians” having to choose between their religious convictions and obeying the law. As the radical right always does, they didn’t say that laws preventing discrimination exist NOW, even in places without marriage equality. The reality is that these states’ experience with anti-discrimination laws shows what a lie this argument actually is.

The radical right’s argument is far more serious—and dangerous—than merely being anti-gay: If someone’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” gives them the right to discriminate against LGBT people, then it also gives them the right to discriminate because of race, colour, religious belief, national origin, marital status, whatever.

While many, perhaps even most, on the far right think that they actually should be able to discriminate, the vast majority of people support anti-discrimination laws. So, the radical right loses, in part, because it argues that their “religious beliefs” should allow them to discriminate against everyone they don’t like.

The same day as they suggested that the ADF’s dishonesty was actually helping to enact marriage equality, ThinkProgress also noted that every living Democratic president and presidential nominee supports marriage equality. They also noted that before his death, George McGovern also expressed support for marriage equality.

By contrast, among Republicans, only Gerald Ford supported marriage equality—back in 2001, around a decade before ANY of the Democrats (which is also evidence for why I respected him, and why I think he was the only decent Republican to serve as president in my lifetime, apart from Eisenhower, who was president when I was born).

Taken together, these show how support for marriage equality is gaining momentum, and how appeals to bigotry or that demand a right to discriminate just don’t work. They also show that the far right, clinging to its bigotry, and the Republican Party, which takes its marching orders from the radical right, are falling farther into irrelevance.

The bigots on the far right will eventually fade into the obscurity they so richly deserve. The question remains, will the Republican Party follow them, or are they capable of growing and changing—evolving, to use a word the radical right hates—so that they move closer to the mainstream?

I don’t know that the Republican Party is capable of change. The evidence shows that if they don’t, they, too, will fail. It’s their choice.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

We Must Go

I saw this video, “Support Exploration: We Must Go”, posted to the “I Fucking Love Science” Facebook page, and I thought it was interesting. The Facebook post said about it:
NASA is a government agency and thus not allowed to advertise, so others decided to do it for them. The Aerospace Industries Association partnered with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to rekindle public support for space exploration. Over 1,700 people donated to make it possible to run the ad in 50 cities across the United States before the latest installment of Star Trek.
However, the commercial isn’t completely selfless, done to promote space exploration for its own sake; the Aerospace Industries Association is a trade group for companies that make the equipment used in the aerospace industry. So, it’s obviously in the AIA’s self interest for there to be more space exploration. Even so, it’s also true that they’re the only ones who can fund such a commercial. It seems to me that this is one of those times when industry and science have a common goal.

The video is narrated by actor Peter Cullen, who is the voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers movies. I’m not sure if that helps or not, but it’s interesting.

Space exploration is one area of science that needs help selling itself to the public. This ad is a start toward doing that.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wait management

As we get older, we find we have to take better care of ourselves. Maybe a doctor says something, maybe we don’t recognise the person staring back at us in the mirror, but whatever the motivation, we decide to make changes—real changes, not mere promises to change.

Six months ago today, I started working on losing weight. It wasn’t a “diet” in a conventional sense: I’m eating more sensibly, yes, and definitely less of whatever I eat, but I don’t deny myself anything. I increased exercise, but only just. My goal has been slow, gradual change that’s sustainable, not some quick weight loss that I’d gain right back (plus some).

Since I began this effort, I’ve lost 11.3kg (just under 25 US pounds). That works out to an average of 434 grams per week—just under one US pound (15.33 ounces) per week. I’m very okay with that.

In fact, I’ve lost some 15kg (33 US pounds) since I hit my all-time heaviest weight some months back. I’m proud of that achievement. I think I should be.

The hardest thing for me has been to be patient. I thought I was doing well until the week I realised that the weight I’d just hit was where I’d started in my big weight loss of 2005-06. Truth is, proud as I am of losing those 11.3kg, I’m still some 13kg heavier than I was when I hit my lowest point back then. By that measure, I’m not even half way. Reality check.

Among the 26 weeks I’ve been doing this, there have been seven weeks in which I’ve lost nothing at all. There have also been three weeks in which I (temporarily) gained back some weight. Patience is a virtue.

I don’t yet know what my new target weight will be, but I think I’m finally getting myself to relax and wait for it, whatever it is. The point, as I said before, is sustainable (and maintainable) weight loss.

Still, even now, there have been benefits: I can wear “thin clothes” that I haven’t fit in, um, awhile. I have better stamina, and my knees don’t seem as strained. I haven’t been to my doctor since I started this, but I’d expect all my numbers to be better. How could they not be?

I’m doing all this because I want to be healthier and live longer, yes, but I also simply want to feel better. That part has already started to happen. That means it’s all a success already.

I’m not following any diet, but because some people will want to know, my diet is basically high protein/low carbohydrate, and I have a lot of lettuce salads to fill me up. I also avoid white sugar. Generally, I only eat when I’m hungry. Like I said, no special diet.

This is a journey, not a destination—or diet. I’m trying to make changes for the long term. Making myself wait for the changes has been the hardest part. But it IS worth it.


We’ve had interruptions to our Internet connections for the past week or so, as I mentioned before. Today, I had no connection at all and it was—weird.

I think that I check Internet “stuff” (email, websites, social media) far too much, so, if I’m right, not having access to any of that should make me more productive, right? No. Not at all. More like the opposite.

I found myself feeling disconnected, not just in the literal sense, but also like I was standing outside my normal life. In fact, I suppose I was. Part of it was that I was disconnected without my consent, while on a normal day I can choose to walk away. Today, I had no choice.

I got things done today, some things beyond what I would normally get done on a Friday, and yet overall it was less than I would have done if I’d had access to the Internet. I think this is a really strange thing.

We humans come to rely on all the technology we create; what starts out as novel, and possibly irrelevant, eventually becomes so intertwined with our lives that we can’t imagine life without it. In fact, we sometimes don’t know what to do when the technology is gone. Today was that sort of day for me.

The closest thing I can compare it to is a power failure: The power goes out very rarely, but when it does, I always end up having to stop myself from time to time because what I was about to do requires electricity. That’s kind of what it was like for me today.

Our Internet will get back to normal, and so will life. But I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t choose to disconnect from time to time—my choice, of course. Maybe I’m too comfortable with modern technology and ought to step back a bit, maybe harken back to a time before the Internet was ubiquitous.

That won’t happen. Once everything is back to normal, I’ll almost certainly forget the weird disconnect between what life was and what I felt it should be. We humans are good at compartmentalising, too.

Right now, I’m mainly just thinking about having Internet access to post this…

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The right’s defeat

Reality is catching up with the radical right: Their lies are failing as more people know and accept the truth about LGBT people. This helps explain why we are winning so often now.

As I’ve pointed out far too many times to list, the radical right uses lies, deception, distortion and defamation to attack LGBT people and our struggle for our civil and human rights. The problem the radicals now face is that mainstream people now know the extent to which the radicals have lied about reality, and polls reflect this.

A couple days ago, I mentioned a Gallup poll, and that their polls show “support for marriage equality now consistently polls above 50%”. This shows the extent to which the radical right has pretty much lost the war.

A new Gallup poll shows why they’re losing:
Currently, 47% of Americans view being gay or lesbian as a sexual orientation individuals are born with, while 33% instead believe it is due to external factors such as upbringing or environment. That 14-percentage-point gap in favor of "nature" over "nurture" is the largest Gallup has measured to date. As recently as two years ago, the public was evenly divided.
People don’t think someone should be discriminated against because of something they’re born with, even if some religions endorse discrimination. The acknowledgement that sexual orientation has a genetic component leads naturally to people supporting marriage equality.

No wonder the radical right is getting so desperate, and using ever more vile and hate-filled rhetoric: They’ve lost, they know it, and they see their power—and ability to make money—slipping through their fingers.

I found Gallup’s analysis equally as interesting as the raw results:
Compared with 2011, when Americans were equally divided on the origins of same-sex orientation, most major U.S. subgroups have shown at least a slight increase in the percentage believing same-sex preference is something a person is born with. Now, a plurality of most subgroups hold that view, except for Republicans, conservatives, and weekly church attenders.
There we have it in a nutshell: “Republicans, conservatives, and weekly church attenders” (and the first two are almost always also the third, but people who are the third are not necessarily the first two); they alone don’t accept that homosexuality is something that some people are born with. That grouping also calls the shots in the Republican Party, which explains the party’s intransigence on marriage equality, an issue where they’ve already lost, and that continues to cost the party votes, especially among the young.

So, what we have are a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality and a clear plurality accepting that homosexuals are born, not made. Why does the radical right keep fighting a war they’ve already lost?

Money and power.

By demonising LGBT people, they can raise a LOT of money. This is particularly important for those people who’d struggle to find well-paying jobs outside the anti-gay industry, but none of them want to give up a source of easy money. Power in this case mainly means controlling the Republican Party, since neither Democrats nor mainstream voters pay any attention to the radial right.

The core threat that the radical right is facing is that their entire ideology—and thus, money-making machine—is built on arguing that homosexuality is entirely a “choice”, one made by very, very naughty people who must be punished for “choosing” it. If mainstream Americans understand that gay people are born, not made, then ALL of the radicals’ arguments collapse: Since NO child can be “recruited” into homosexuality, then there’s no problem with anti-bullying campaigns in schools, gay teachers, gay scout leaders or gay parents. Their absurd, “won’t someone please think of the children” bullshit is seen as exactly that. And donations dry up.

All of this means that the radical right has a strong incentive to keep up with their lies, deception, distortion and defamation of LGBT people: Their livelihoods depend on it.

Mainstream America has already started moving on. In a few short years, these poll results will seem positively conservative as mainstream people continue to move past the radical right. The question then becomes, having failed at oppressing GLBT people, who will they next turn their fires of bigotry on?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Missing husband

Watch this video, and you'll see why the USA's treatment of bi-national gay couples is, as US Rep. Jerrold Nadler called it, gratuitous cruelty. IF the US Supreme Court strikes down the infamous and blatantly unconstitutional Defense [sic] of Marriage Act, then legally married same-gender couples like David and Jason in this video will be treated equally by US immigration law. It will be an important FIRST step, but only that. The USA needs comprehensive immigration reform that includes LGBT people.

But if the Court doesn't strike down DOMA, then we are left waiting for Congress to repeal it, and since supporting DOMA (and being against marriage equality in general, too) is still a requirement for all Republican congressional and presidential candidates, this means it won't happen any time soon. That's why so much is riding on the Court's decision, and why it matters so much.

As long-time readers of this blog of course know, the USA's anti-gay immigration stance is why I moved to New Zealand in 1995, the year before DOMA (although marriage wasn't legal for same gender couples anywhere in the world at the time). Leaving the USA was the only way Nigel and I could be together because New Zealand recognised same-gender couples for immigration even back then—ten years before civil unions came to NZ, and some 18 years before marriage equality in NZ. Nearly 18 years later, US immigration policy is still the same—no, actually, it’s even worse because of DOMA.

So, when DOMA is finally struck down or repealed, life will get much better for legally married bi-national gay couples. But without comprehensive immigration reform, unmarried gay couples (like Nigel and I were in 1995) will face the same separation or exile that all gay couples do now. And it will still be legal to discriminate against LGBT single people.

I am NOT an absolutist: I want DOMA gone so married same-gender couples can have the same immigration rights—along with the other 1100-odd rights from marriage—as married opposite-gender couples. It’s just that getting rid of DOMA is not enough.

But, it’s a start.

For more information from the people behind the video, check out The DOMA Project.

An idea’s time has come

Today Minnesota became the 12th US state to enact the freedom to marry, and the state’s governor will sign it into law tomorrow (the graphic comes from the governor’s office). That makes three states in two weeks! In fact, there have been so many countries and US states enacting marriage equality in such a very short time that I've actually lost count (no joke).

Marriage equality is an idea whose time has come, and the increasing ferocity of the rhetoric of our adversaries underscores the point: They’ve lost the war and they know it. It’s made them frantic, desperate to try and find some way to stop the inevitable, but, as Victor Hugo put it, "Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come."

Not at all long ago, victory seemed impossibly far off. For years, our opponents’ tactics of lying, scaremongering and sowing division among the coalition on our side of the war worked exactly as they intended, and they kept winning all the battles. But in May of last year, President Obama announced he supported the freedom to marry and Democratic politicians—and a couple Republicans—started tripping over themselves to declare that they, too, supported it.

November happened: Five out of five ballot victories for our side, including the first time we’d won the freedom to marry at the ballot box—in three states! More politicians jumped on board. Since then, the freedom to marry has passed numerous times, though not all of them are yet law. Some Republican leaders now openly talk about moving beyond social issues, especially dropping their fight against the freedom to marry, since their party is so clearly on the losing side.

Mother Jones reported that the Mormons have pulled back in the battle for marriage equality, after being the chief funder and organiser for California’s Propostion 8 (and before that, in Hawaii and also California). They left the field mainly to rightwing Catholics who can’t match the Mormons’ ability to mobilise a grassroots effort or raise money.

So, our adversaries find themselves unable to raise money or organise volunteers, and with a viewpoint clearly in the minority. Gallup reported today that support for marriage equality now consistently polls above 50%: It’s currently at 53% support, which, they note, “is essentially double the 27% in Gallup's initial measurement on gay marriage, in 1996.” It’s also ten points higher than it was just three years ago.

The fact that a clear majority of people in the USA support marriage equality is probably the single most important factor in the recent string of victories. Growing support leads to more support, which leads to victories, and that, in turn, leads to even more victories.

Of course, it’s not over yet. The Supreme Court is unlikely to issue a Loving v. Virginia sort of ruling on marriage equality (at least, not yet…), so eventually we’ll run out of states where the freedom to marry can be enacted: Some 2/3 of the US states have specific bans on same-gender couples marrying, usually enshrined in their state constitutions, and those will need to be removed first (as Oregon is getting ready to do).

Still, the momentum is clearly on our side, and marriage equality is inevitable in all 50 US states—though some will probably wait a VERY long time for it.

"Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come." Freedom to marry is an idea whose time—clearly—has come.

So, congratulations Minnesota! Now, it’s time for Illinois to join the other two Midwest states with the freedom to marry. It’s time has come.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Well played

Labour Party Leader David Shearer posted the above graphic to Facebook, adding:
John Key has essentially written a blank cheque for SkyCity. They get more pokie machines, more gaming tables, ticket in – ticket out systems, cashless gambling and the ability to increase playing limits. SkyCity has hit the jackpot.
He’s absolutely right—but I’m actually not bothered by SkyCity. They’re a corporation doing what all corporations do under the rules of capitalism: They’re trying to maximise return (profits) for shareholders.

However, I have a HUGE problem with the National Party-led government “selling” our laws to advance the interests of corporations. This smacks of dirty backroom deals among rich mates.

In any case, this deal will have consequences that will hurt New Zealand (in my previous post, I pointed out one of the least talked about). The harm to democracy and national sovereignty is a big problem, too.

On this issue, as with so many others these days, the arrogance with which National is treating New Zealand is truly appalling.

Bad deal

The current National Party-led government is dealing New Zealand a VERY bad hand. Much of that has already been discussed elsewhere, but one thing that hasn't been talked about in the SkyCity deal for a convention centre is that Auckland's sinking lid on pokies (slot machines) means that over time they'll be concentrated at SkyCity. That matters because the profits from pokies in pubs and clubrooms go to community groups, while the profits from SkyCity go overseas.

So, not only will the community have to deal with more problem gambling and the problems related to it, we'll also have community groups being left to do more with less money. In contrast, the overseas owners of SkyCity get more profits, with the National Party-led government’s legislation trying to guarantee that those profits won’t be affected by future (non-National Party) governments.

So, yeah: The current National Party-led government is dealing New Zealand a VERY bad hand.

See also: "Green Party threatens SkyCity law repeal" - Stuff

I originally published a different version of this post on Facebook.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why not?

"I hear you say 'Why?' Always 'Why?' You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'" - George Bernard Shaw (often paraphrased by Robert F. Kennedy).

I was thinking about this quote today when I saw the ABC News story above. A few kids took on "tradition" which, in their case, was a tradition that aided and abetted bigotry and racism, and they did something. People in their community rallied around them and helped them create change.

In the scope of the country or the world, maybe this story seems small and insignificant, maybe even superficial. Some may ask why it took so long to happen. Others will note the kids and their supporters faced resistance. But the point is, these people DID SOMETHING; how many of us can say the same?

To be honest, stories about young people like this, and the community that helped them create change, make my heart sing, and give me hope (for one more day…) that we all may yet live in a better world, after all.

Why not?

I originally published a different version of this post on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Today’s good news

This has been a very good week for marriage equality. Today, Delaware became the 11th US State* to enact marriage equality: The state senate passed the bill and Governor Jack Markell signed it into law shortly afterward. This is less than a week since Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed that state’s marriage equality law.

Illinois and Minnesota have marriage equality bills before their legislatures, and the Illinois bill has already passed the Illinois Senate and is now waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives. The governors of both Minnesota and Illinois have pledged to sign marriage equality bills into law, should their states’ legislatures pass them. Votes in both states are expected soon.

What I think is especially relevant for Illinois is that less than a year ago, Delaware enacted civil unions (which will cease being offered on July 1, and after that, all existing civil unions will be automatically converted to marriages over time). The Illinois General Assembly passed civil unions not quite two years ago; Delaware shows that there’s no reason not move on full marriage equality right away.

For me, the quote of the year in all the marriage equality battles came from Delaware Senator Karen Peterson, who came out as lesbian during the debate. Sen. Peterson said:
"If my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, you need to work on your marriage."
I’ve never heard that put better.

I am very busy this week, but this is something to celebrate. Congratulations Delaware and Rhode Island—now, on to Illinois and Minnesota!

*The District of Columbia, which has the city of Washington, the US Capital, also has marriage equality, but DC is not a state.

Graphic above is from the American Foundation for Equal Rights' blog post on Delaware.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Technical difficulties

This has been a week: Heavy work commitments have left me with little time for blogging, and I’ve also had some “technical difficulties” (chiefly around Internet access). All of which has meant no blogging—in fact, I may not have time until later this week. Life happens.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

In the mix

Twitter was once called a “microblogging platform”—anybody else remember that? Well, it never was one, and Facebook isn’t a blog, either. But, I think they’re both part of the mix.

The other day, Roger Green posted this:
When I noted that I’ll be doing less blogging someday, I should have made it clear that I won’t be filling up that time using Facebook. I mention this specifically because many of my original blogging buddies from 2005 and 2006 have done just that.
None of my blogging buddies have done that, but there are some people who, in my opinion, should be blogging, instead post things to Facebook (or Tumblr) that would make great conventional blog posts. I think it’s all about reach.

Facebook is a social network without equal (sorry Google+ fans; much as I like that platform, it’s barely used by people I know). Depending on one’s privacy settings, there are potentially millions of people who could see a posting. It’s not just your friends, but who they share it with, and so on. And, if you have loose enough settings to permit public viewing, the total number who might read your words could be many millions.

Even though most ordinary people would never—ever—reach such stratospheric numbers of readers, I nevertheless think that it’s the huge potential reach of Facebook that makes it so tempting for some people to use a kind of mini-blogging platform. A conventional blog post on any platform—Blogger, Wordpress, some other site or even self-hosted—is very unlikely to offer that same huge potential audience.

My own blog has a consistent and rather small readership (quality, not quantity!). If I wait for people to discover it on Blogger alone, that’ll never change. So, like most bloggers, I try and reach other readers, perhaps even those who don’t ordinarily read blogs.

So, I have Networked Blogs publish a teaser for each new post to Facebook, and that’s resulted in something interesting: I often have more interaction about my blog posts on Facebook than I do here. Friends will “Like” a post or make a comment there, something they never do here. Similarly, a teaser is automatically posted to Google+ and I’ll often get a +1 there, which people could do here, but seldom do.

What all of this means for me is that Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are all important parts of my blogging: They let people who often are not ordinarily readers of blogs know about my posts, and sometimes they read them. But the thing is, all those places point back here—the post is here, not in any of those other places.

Roger’s post lays out some of what’s good about Facebook, though his mention of the designated hitter rule baffled me; I never understood it—or, perhaps, baseball—at all. But I—we—digress.

After I read Roger’s post, I said on Twitter:
For me, Facebook is for people I know IRL—family and old school friends—and Twitter is for people I WISH I knew.
Sometime in the past year or so, Facebook became a place with a high percentage of people I know in real life; all the others remain quite low. But all the networks I take part in have interesting people who are willing to engage in conversation—and isn’t conversation part of the whole point of blogging? It is for me.

Facebook cannot replace a full blogging platform, I don’t think, at least in part because social networks don’t have as much overlap as many people assume. As a blogger, I’d like to reach, yes, but more to engage with all sorts of people. For me, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., aren’t a substitute for traditional blogging, but they’re definitely in the mix.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Creating a voter

My parents made me a left-of-centre voter. I don’t think they set out to do that, but then again, yes they did. Obviously there’s a story in that.

This post topic came about because of my friend Kit’s comment on Facebook about yesterday’s post, “May Day and me”, which got me thinking about the specific influence my parents had on my political development and growth. This post expands on what I said in reply to her. Kit explained how her parents were left of centre, but mine certainly weren’t.

My parents were staunch Republicans. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my earliest memories is of a mock presidential election in my Kindergarten, and I said on my podcast that I “voted” for Barry Goldwater—because my parents did. Four years later, my parents backed Nixon, then Nixon again and then Ford.

One day, when I was still pretty young, my dad was getting ready for the day and his jewellery box was open after he’d gotten some cufflinks out. In it, I saw a red, white and blue Nixon/Lodge campaign button. He often talked about that election and complained that Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley had “stolen” it for John F. Kennedy. Something about voting machines tossed into the Chicago River (I didn’t pay much attention…).

So with a clearly Republican family, it seemed I was destined to be one, too—but things didn’t work out that way.

As far back as I can remember, my parents talked about the issues of the day. Although much of it was from a more or less right of centre perspective (and the voting machine conspiracy theory wouldn’t be out of place among modern Republicans…), they also valued facts, evidence and the free exchange of ideas.

As I grew older, we discussed the issues as equals. What I wrote back in 2011 in a post for my mother’s birthday sums it up:
“…neither my mother nor father ever dismissed what I had to say, or told me to be quiet, even though I had far less life experience than they did, and very little of my own. If they ever thought that I was naive or immature or my views simplistic, they never said so, even though some of my views had to be one or all of those things at least sometimes.”
I also said in that post that “by encouraging me to think, to discuss and to debate, [my parents] nurtured my growing interest in all things political.” I could have added that this led to my steady move leftward.

I know for certain that my parents voted in Democratic primaries at least twice: 1974 and 1978. In 1974, our local police chief, E.J. "Chick" LaMagdeleine, was running for sheriff of our county against the incumbent, Republican Pat Clavey, who was widely regarded as corrupt (he was later convicted of income tax evasion and perjury and served time in prison). LaMagdeleine won that election, but the county was very Republican and in 1978 the Republican candidate defeated him. LaMagdeleine died in 1998 and Clavey died last year.

My parents were both dead before the 1980 election, so I have no idea who they’d have voted for. I like to think it wouldn’t have been Reagan, but I really don’t know. However, they were pretty centrist overall—conservative-ish at most—and would be appalled by the extremism of the modern Republican Party, so I’m convinced that, like me, they’d be voting for Democrats now.

What my parents taught me through our discussions and their own behaviour was that it’s okay to grow and evolve. So, while my parents didn’t set out specifically to make me a left of centre voter, they did try to guide me into being a good voter and responsible citizen. Were they still alive, I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on every issue—we never did—but we’d be in a similar place on most political issues.

All of which is more evidence for why I think my parents were pretty damn awesome.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May Day and me

May Day (also known as International Workers' Day) always seemed sinister when I was a kid. It took me decades to learn it wasn’t.

Growing up during the Cold War, it wasn’t hard to find May Day scary. TV news reports showed a parade through Red Square in Moscow, with the masses marching, waving huge red banners or carrying portraits of Marx, Lenin and whoever the Soviet leaders of the day were. The crowds seemed so fervent, so committed to their ideology. It wasn’t hard to be convinced that all the US propaganda was fact.

But it turned out the origins of May Day were much closer to home.

May Day began as a remembrance of the Haymarket Riots in Chicago, which happened on May 4 1886. During a peaceful rally supporting workers striking for an eight-hour day, an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police. That, and the gunfire that erupted afterward, killed seven police officers and at least four of the crowd. Dozens were injured.

A “red scare” followed, with police often brutally cracking down on socialists, anarchists and activists for workers’ rights. The bomber was never identified, but authorities tried and convicted 8 people for conspiracy—in a trial widely regarded as unjust. Four defendants were executed by hanging, the other four were pardoned in 1893 by the progressive Governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld (who was defeated in the next election, largely because of his support for labour).

In 1889, a privately funded statue honouring the dead policemen was erected in Haymarket Square. It was damaged several times, and was actually blown up twice by the Weathermen (in 1969 and 1970). Each time the statue was damaged, it was restored. In 1972, it was moved to the Chicago Police Headquarters (later to its training academy), but the pedestal remained empty for decades. In 1992, bronze plaque was placed on the spot where the wagon from which speakers addressed the crowd had stood. In 2004, a memorial sculpture—depicting a 15-foot speaker’s wagon—was unveiled.

Growing up, and believing the anti-socialist propaganda of the local, state and federal governments of the day, I had no reason to learn the real story of the Haymarket Riots, so I didn’t know it was the reason behind the selection of May Day as a day for workers. For that matter, I didn’t know the truth about social democratic countries.

Now, of course, I live in a social democracy, with its mix of market socialism, welfare state progressivism and market-focused capitalism. I’ve seen firsthand that social democratic programmes condemned in the USA, such as national healthcare, are actually good things that benefit society, and that such things are not evil, as I’d been taught to believe.

Still, on May Day in New Zealand we don’t break into a rousing rendition of “The Internationale”. I bet most Kiwis, like their American cousins, probably don’t even know what that is. Our Labour Day holiday—celebrating the 8-hour workday—is at the end of October.

The video at the top of this post is of Arturo Toscanini conducting a version of “The Internationale” in 1944. It’s part of a film featurette to honour the Allied victory in Italy in World War 2 in which Toscanini conducted Verdi’s “Hymn of the Nations”, adding “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the USA and “The Internationale” for the Soviet Union (until that year, “The Internationale” was the national anthem of the Soviet Union). In the “red scares” of the 1950s, US censors had other ideas about all this and deleted “The Internationale” from the film. The complete, uncensored version is on YouTube, of course (and, oddly enough, “The Star-Spangled Banner” follows “The Internationale”). The music was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with the Westminister Choir and the tenor Jan Peerce as soloist.

It turns out that the world is much more interesting than American propaganda led me to believe. History is almost never a simplistic binary story in which one side is all good and the other is all bad. Humans, and our stories, are far too complicated for that. So, the struggle for workers’ rights or the attempts to stop them, the Haymarket Riots and the origins of May Day, or even socialism itself—none of these are simplistic morality tales. They’re far more interesting.