Monday, September 30, 2013

Prudishness or lifesaving?

The ad above (possibly NSFW) is a breast cancer awareness ad from the Scottish Government. It’s been called “innovative”, but one thing it isn’t is vague. That’s why it’s banned in New Zealand.

Technically, the ad above isn’t banned, but a New Zealand-made version of the ad isn’t allowed to show any actual breasts. That ad is below, and it’s what New Zealand censors would allow on television: No real breasts, and certainly no nipples.

I think the censors are being entirely too precious. They could restrict its airing to adult time, the same as with alcohol advertising, so children who are delicate flowers won’t be confronted with human anatomy.

I saw this on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp, where it was actually asked, if nipples are allowed on TV, where does it stop? Testicles? This sort of thing makes me roll my eyes: Some people are FAR too precious about the human body and want to pretend that women don’t have boobs or men balls. This SHOULD be obvious, but there’s a huge difference between porn and health information, and assuming that all real-life depictions of the human body are automatically obscene hinders needed life-saving information. Plus, it’s just damn stupid.

In that Seven Sharp segment, a woman battling breast cancer says that she didn’t know that the dimple that appeared in her breast was a symptom of breast cancer, and she waited months to go to the doctor. Until tonight, I’d never heard that, either.

So, if we have the opportunity to educate people, to give them information to save their lives, is prudishness permissible? I don’t think so. Someday, maybe we’ll get over ourselves, and in the same way that people are no longer required to wear swimsuits that cover them from knee to neck, maybe we won’t automatically assume that seeing parts of real human bodies is automatically and always obscene.

Someday, maybe, but how many people will die from ignorance while we allow prudishness to rule our lives?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Unions don’t have to be scary

This video as really a brief infomercial that shows why unions don’t have to be scary for business. An LED lighting manufacturing company was bringing its manufacturing from China back to the USA. The IBEW union met with the company and formed a deal in which the union will train workers and help the company market its products, in exchange for which the assembly plant is a union shop. It’s a win/win for the company and for workers, and will help the middle class, which has struggled so much in recent years.

I also think this is a case study in the positive things that can happen when unions and companies work together in partnership. These days, unions are focused more clearly than ever on creating opportunities for their members, and creating better conditions in the process. This is how things are supposed to be.

The worker/employer relationship becomes adversarial only when companies treat workers badly, as if they’re things to be used and then discarded. They get away with that when there are no unions to help and to protect them.

But if unions and companies work together, as in this example, everyone is better off.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wentworth Miller’s own story

In the video above, Wentworth Miller talks candidly about his life truth and his coming out. I think this short speech is pretty remarkable.

I first saw Wentworth when the ABC (US) mini-series Dinotopia was broadcast in New Zealand. So, when Prison Break came along, I already knew who he was. I didn’t realise he was gay, however.

The speech was given at the Seattle fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign. I found it when I went to YouTube to see what was new from the channels I subscribe to. I’m glad I did. I think it's interesting hearing people tell their own stories.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Woe is blog

Get your crocodile tears ready: I’ve found it very hard to blog lately. It’s not that I don’t have things I want to say, it’s that I have things I don’t want to publish. Very different things.

My decision to withdraw politics from my Facebook posts is part of the reason, since the Networked Blogs autoposts inject politics back into my Facebook every time I blog about something political (soon to change). But more than that, I’m just over all the negativity.

This year, I’ve had a pretty high number of blog posts that I’ve written and never published (or sometimes even finished). Invariably, they were about something political, usually fact-checking, correcting or even mocking a political adversary, and each time I just stopped. “No,” I’d often say to myself, “I just don’t want to go there.” And that was that.

And yet, sometimes it’s necessary to comment on the negative in order to highlight the positive. This is where I struggle the most—I don’t want to even mention most of the negative stuff our adversaries get up to. This is true for both the US and New Zealand, by the way.

I go through this from time to time, and other times I get into a trough of negativity, a place I don’t want to dwell. But neither do I want to be Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows all the time. That’s why sometimes blogging—especially as a daily blogger—is difficult.

Maybe I should just worry less and share more, come what may. I know my upcoming political posts are all positive; I guess that’s enough for now. In any case, if I skip blogging for a day or two, you'll know why.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Local politics

They say all politics is local, but someone forgot to tell New Zealand voters that. We’re in the midst of our local elections and if the past is any indicator, Kiwis will have to work hard to get their interest level up to “paying no attention at all”.

Okay, that’s a BIT unfair: We might get nearly 50% of voters to return their ballots (it’s a postal ballot). But that means that more than half of eligible voters couldn’t possibly care less. Well, what else are we to think if they can’t even be bothered to vote in a postal election?

We got our voting papers in the mail yesterday, and I looked at them this morning. It turns out that for voters in our area, there are fewer candidates than in 2010, the first elections for the new Auckland “super city”. Back then, there were 102 candidates vying for 24 positions, while this year there are only 88. That breaks down as follows:

The number of candidates has gone down or remained the same for all but one elective office, the District Health Board (DHB). It may seem a mystery as to why anyone would want to run for that, but it’s an elective board: Some folks see it as a stepping stone to other elective office.

The office of Mayor has only one serious contender, Mayor Len Brown, and only one true crackpot, an anti-abortion crusader whose courage of conviction was so strong that he didn’t even provide a photo for his official bio, which he mostly used to preach against abortion; whatever. There are two far-leftists running, but they appeal to a small minority of voters, and one of them, not even that many. The rest are people I’ve never heard of (one American expat running I only heard of once he announced; apparently he’s known for a reality TV show, but I’ve never seen it on TV and don’t like his agenda).

A bigger story is our Kaipatiki Local Board: Of the 23 candidates, five don’t even live in the boundaries the Board area, and of them, three are standing for election to two or more Local Boards. One candidate who does live in the area is also standing for two Local Boards. Candidates aren’t required to live in the Board area to which they’re seeking election, and they can stand for more than one Local Board. I don’t think either one should be allowed, but definitely not standing for more than one Local Board.

People who stand for more than one Local Board are “job shopping,” as far as I’m concerned: It’s like applying for several jobs, hoping to get one, and then picking the one they like best. Only this isn’t the private sector, and if a person is going to ask the public to trust them with their vote, then they damn well ought to serve if elected, and not choose a board they like the best. I sincerely hope that any candidate who stands for more than one Local Board loses badly.

One candidate for our Local Board, Mary-Anne Benson-Cooper is standing for FOUR different Local Boards! Why should any voter entrust their vote to a person like that?! She’s either indecisive or extremely ambitious, but either way, she’s the clear winner in the job shopping contest. She’s also standing for Auckland Council (in a different Ward) and the DHB. Many candidates do that—stand for other, elective offices at the same time as for Local Board—and I have far less of a problem with that, since if elected to Council and Local Board they give up their Local Board seat (and the next-highest vote getter is elected); it’s the standing for the same position in several different places I think is inexcusable.

Since I’m naming names, the other two out-of-area candidates standing for two Local Boards are: Edward Benson-Cooper and Ivan Dunn. The area resident who is running for two different Local Boards is Grant Gillon. Perhaps needless to say, I will NOT be voting for any of the job shoppers.

The DHB list is a joke. I’ve heard of only three of the 35 candidates, and two of those I’d never vote for and the third I'd rather not vote for. The DHB uses the Single Transferable Vote preferential voting system, which many Kiwis don’t even understand. Add that to the long list of mystery people, and it’s little wonder that people skip that part of the ballot, or don’t bother voting at all.

The fact is, there just aren’t easy opportunities for voters to get good information about candidates. In the nearly 18 years I’ve lived in New Zealand, I’ve never seen a political candidate for any office standing at my front door. I also don’t remember seeing any campaign workers, though I could have forgotten it. All we get are a LOT of roadside signs, some flyers in our letterbox and the 53 pages of short bios sent out with our voting papers. Candidates do show up at some public events and public meetings, but I’ve never been to one where a candidate was present.

In our Ward, two National Party-aligned Auckland Council candidates, George Wood and Joseph Bergin, clearly have a LOT of money behind them. So far, we’ve received a direct-mail letter each, a flier in our letterbox and a slick, two-sided A4 glossy colour flyer insert in our local paper (plus a lot of large signs). Clearly some folks with deep pockets want them to win. All that money is wasted on me, though: They won’t get my vote.

Spending a lot of money on promotion doesn’t provide good information so that ordinary voters can make sound decisions. However, it does make it easier to get votes: With the lack of information and poor voter motivation, voters tend to vote for whoever they’ve heard of. This is why the same people tend to get elected over and over again.

I don’t know how to get more people to vote or how to get them take personal responsibility for picking who to vote for. I’m a political junkie, so of course I research candidates, but most people don’t, and they won’t. Somehow, we need to make it easier for voters to make informed decisions, then get them to actually vote.

The good news is that despite it all, there are plenty of good, dedicated and conscientious local government politicians, people who care about and are committed to their communities. And it’s also good to know that we have many such people right here in our area. I’ll talk about some of them in future posts.

Voting closes on Saturday, October 12 at midday.

And the race is on… My more upbeat look at the 2010 local government elections in Auckland
Discerning Democracy – Another post from 2010

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unexpected technology

I wasn’t sure whether I should say anything about this, because it’s too easy for people to think I’m bragging. But since I already mentioned this on Facebook, well, I’ll make an exception.

On Saturday, I got a new iPhone 5c (the back of the phone is pictured). This is, by my count, my fifth brand new cellphone, including my first one in the late 1990s. But my last three phones—including my iPhone 3G and iPhone 4—were “hand me ups” from Nigel. I haven’t bought a new phone since around 2005, I think, and I’ve never had a new iPhone before. I think that’s exciting, not in an “Apple fanboy” sense, but just because new is exciting for me.

On Thursday, I updated my iPad (also a hand me up) to the new iOS 7 operating system. My plan was to update my iPhone 4 this past weekend, before I knew I was getting a new phone. My old phone, by the way, has now been passed on to another family member who is upgrading to her first smartphone.

There are a lot of people who have dismissed the iPhone 5c as a version for the peasants: Cheaper, with fewer features. Bill Maher described it as looking like a phone wearing Crocs. Yeah, well, whatever: The phone is less expensive than the full-featured iPhone 5s, and the plastic cover makes it lighter. The difference in features is irrelevant to me, since I’m upgrading from an iPhone 4—the new phone isn’t ”limited” at all from my perspective.

I’ve always said that when buying new technology, people should by the best and most powerful they can afford so that it remains useful as long as possible. My new phone is 4G capable, when that network is widely available. So, it’ll have far more life in it than my old phone would have had.

The operating system, iOS7, has also had its share of knockers. I actually really like it. I don’t mind the new “flat” icons, though I do have to learn what some of them are because the symbol has been changed. But some of the basic functions, like closing open Apps, which is now like swiping it away, are much better. Other features are much better, too. Other things just look pretty, and that’s also okay.

I think of technology not so much for what it IS, as for what it can DO. This particular aspect of my technology journey has taken me from a used iPod Touch, to a used iPhone, on to a used iPad, and now to a brand new iPhone. Each one has been useful in its own right, which means that eventually what I have now will be replaced by something else that better meets my current and/or future needs. In the meantime, the iPad, iPhone and my desktop Mac all work together seamlessly and without me having to figure things out.

For now, the thing for me is that I don’t get new technology ever day, seldom something that’s sought-after, and nothing that’s ahead of others. So, if this all sounds like a bit of bragging, tough. There’s far more to it than just that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

All the news

The New Zealand Herald is a conservative newspaper, one with obvious biases toward the New Zealand National Party. This bias is becoming ever more obvious, and today provided a good example.

The screen grab accompanying this post (click to embiggen; red underlining added) is from the Herald website. They headlined their story on a new opinion poll taken for TVNZ’s ONE News: "Cunliffe fails to make dent in PM's popularity". Reading the story, we learn that David Cunliffe actually soared ten points in polling for preferred Prime Minister, but to the Herald, that’s apparently a loss for him because in the few days since he became Labour Party Leader, he hasn’t passed John Key in the polls.

The Herald reported that the poll was conducted September 14-18—yet Cunliffe was announced as Leader of the Labour Party only on the afternoon of September 15. So, a ten-point rise in polling—which is a 600% improvement for him, actually—is nothing to the Herald. Why would that be?

Meanwhile, TVNZ—for whom the poll was conducted—reported the same story very differently: “Labour's fired up attitude seems to be working for Mr Cunliffe in the latest ONE News Colmar Brunton poll.”

To some, this may seem like mere semantics: After all, Cunliffe didn’t take anything from John Key’s poll ratings. However, the reality is that since the poll was taken beginning prior to, and concluding soon after, Cunliffe becoming Leader, if anything it under-reports his poll strength. At the very least, the big rise for Cunliffe indicates that TVNZ’s reporting was far more accurate than was the Herald’s.

Still, Cunliffe himself knows this is early days. He told TVNZ’s “Q+A” programme that there was still a lot of work to do. This week, he announces his shadow cabinet, with an eye toward being a government in waiting.

Spinning the news to suit the Herald’s political ideology is nothing new for the paper, and this certainly isn’t the worst case of it—it’s simply the most recent. I’ll admit, though, I did get a good laugh at their expense.

A functioning democracy requires a free press. But a free press also requires a functioning democracy. So, we ordinary people have to hold the press to account just as we do politicians. We must use our freedom of speech and opinion to keep the press honest, and to point out when they’re not. This is such a time. It certainly won’t be the last.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Not all like that

There’s one religious topic I return to frequently, because I think it’s critically important: Religion is not the enemy of LGBT people, even if some of its adherents may be. We’re now seeing more and more people proving me right.

The video above is by Rob and Linda Robertson of Seattle. You may know of them already. Linda penned a moving post, “Just Because He Breathes”, sharing how she and her husband, Evangelical Christians, rejected their gay son, learned to truly love him, then reconciled with him just before it was too late. They lost their son at least in part, they now realise, because of the hurt and pain they caused him. Linda wrote, “What we had wished for, prayed for, hoped for—that we would not have a gay son—came true. But not at all in the way we had envisioned.”

Since the death of their son, they’ve dedicated themselves to spreading the word that their God doesn’t reject people for being gay. They help Evangelical parents like themselves to learn to love and accept their LGBT children. And, they tell LGBT Christians, “if you’re wondering whether there is a place for you in the kingdom of God, we want you to know that the kingdom of God won’t be complete without you.”

The Robertsons are part of the growing NALT Christians Project. NALT is an acronym for “Not All Like That”, and is inspired by the It Gets Better Project. The mission of the project is simple:
“The purpose of the NALT Christians Project is to give all LGBT-affirming Christians a means of proclaiming to the world—and especially to young gay people—their belief and conviction that there is nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”
I admire what they’re doing for two reasons. First, it shows the vast majority people who are NOT  anti-gay religious fanatics that it’s possible to be fervent Christian believers AND loving and accepting of LGBT people. Second, it can provide hope for young LGBT people who are struggling within families and communities controlled by anti-gay religious fanatics. The NALT Christians Project can help save the lives of young LGBT Christians who might otherwise see no way out, no future, nor hope of life or love.

And so, I’d like to gently challenge all LGBT-affirming Christians to make their own statements, openly, publicly and honestly. Make a video as the Robertsons did (trust me, it’s NOT hard!). LGBT people need for you to be heard because without you, the only Christian voices heard belong to the most anti-gay and radical. You can change that. Find a way that works for you and let the world know: Not all Christians are like that.

As I've said before, and will again, religion is not the enemy of LGBT people, even if some of its adherents may be. People taking part in the NALT Christians Project are helping to prove that.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Women’s Suffrage Day at 120

Today is the 120th anniversary of Women's Suffrage Day. On September 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Of course, that was only a major turning point for women’s equality, not the end.

One of the things I think is interesting about the debate over women’s suffrage is that the male politicians of the day warned about changing the “natural” gender roles of men and women, an argument we’d see repackaged by conservatives in the recent debate over marriage equality. Despite the opponents’ warnings about female voters facing trouble from boorish and drunken men at the polls, the first election under the new freedoms (1893) was described as New Zealand’s “best-conducted and most orderly”. Freedom often works like that.

However, it wasn’t until 1919 that women got the right to stand for Parliament, and it wasn’t until 1933—40 years after women’s suffrage—that the first female Member of Parliament, Elizabeth McCombs, was elected. In December, 1997, New Zealand got its first female Prime Minister when Jenny Shipley rolled then-National Party Leader Jim Bolger. Two years later, Labour Party Leader Helen Clark became the first woman to become Prime Minister through elections, and she served in that office for just under ten years.

The celebratory graphic with this post is from female members of the Labour Party caucus in Parliament. Even though things are obviously better for women than in 1893, New Zealand has a long way to go before it has gender equality. So why did the Prime Minister’s office think the graphic below, highlighting the inequality of women, was a good way to celebrate Women’s Suffrage Day?

THIS is what John Key thinks is celebratory?
The Tweet John Key’s staff sent with the graphic said: “It's fantastic to see New Zealand women leading the world once again.” This led one of my Tory Twitter friends to reply, “was someone in your office drunk when they thought it was a good idea to highlight that women are still unequal?” Exactly. The fact that women in New Zealand aren’t treated as badly as women in other countries is NOT something to celebrate (especially on Women’s Suffrage Day!), but rather something to rededicate ourselves to fixing. John Key missed an opportunity to commit to women’s rights and failed to do so.

Young Nats' Exaggeration.
This is why I rolled my eyes when I saw a graphic (at right) Tweeted by Young Nationals, the party's youth wing. Over a black and white photo of Jenny Shipley, they proclaimed in National Party-ish blue banners, “Women’s Rights” in the top banner and “A National Cause.” in the bottom banner. National has done little if anything to advance women’s rights, even though Young Nationals have been advocates. Maybe they need to seize control of the party to make their banner true (actually, in all seriousness, that would be a great idea, and a great benefit to the country for all sorts of reasons).

We have a long way to go before we achieve full equality for women, despite what John Key seems to think. But 120 years ago today, the fight became real as women finally got the vote. Celebrating that fact is what today is about; rededicating ourselves to completing the work is our obligation.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Democrat being a Democrat

Times have changed. Once upon a time, US politicians appealed to their party’s base for nomination, then “moved to the centre” for the general elections. Now, Republicans stay on the far right. Increasingly, some Democrats are running as Democrats. Finally.

The video above is from Carl Sciortino, an openly gay Massachusetts State Representative and a Democrat. He's now running in the special election for Massachusetts' 5th Congressional District (to replace now US Senator Ed Markey). The Primary Election is October 15, 2013. What makes his campaign especially notable is that he's also running as a—GASP!—proud liberal. THIS is what I want to see Democrats do more of, as I’ve said many times before.

The thing about US politics is that the centre has shifted very far to the right from where it was, say, 20 years ago. Beginning in earnest with Newt Gingrich’s “Contract On America” (though the trend started even earlier), Democrats allowed Republicans to not only set the political agenda, but also to frame the political debate. As a result, “centrist” became conservative. That’s finally beginning to change for Democrats, who are finally seizing the initiative.

Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed thinks that Sciortino's campaign represents a “new playbook” for out LGBT politicians, who, Geidner says, usually took the path of Christine Quinn who failed in her campaign to become New York City's first out LGBT mayor. It was “…an old template for minority candidates: Take the base for granted, and tack to the center.” He also notes that, “Sciortino is running roughly the opposite of Quinn’s campaign.”

I think that Sciortino is using a new playbook for Democrats generally: He’s running for office, not away from what the party stands for or its principles. He actually stands for something. That’s a refreshing change.

If elected, Sciortino would be among the youngest members of the US House and, with a decade of legislative experience already, he could be a strong advocate for Democratic Party values generally, and LGBT issues specifically, for many years to come. Sounds to me like a pretty good deal.

Pundits tell us all the time that Democrats have to tack to the centre to win general elections, even though, clearly, Republicans don’t move to the centre. But voters who want a conservative tend to want a real one, not a “Republican Lite”, “Me, Too!” sort of Democrat.

I would love to see liberal Democrats take the battle to these supposed conservative areas, because I believe that if Democrats present a clear and principled alternative to voters, if they can explain real Democratic values and not Republicans’ cartoonish propaganda version, we could see some supposed red areas turn blue. Actually, Republicans know that, too—it’s why they spend so much time demonising liberals and Democrats.

What I’m saying is that in far too many places, Democrats have run away from being Democrats, and they lose. We’re starting to see a glimmer of hope that at least some Democrats have seen this as a self-defeating strategy and are willing to take the battle to the Republicans. I hope we see more who do.

I wish Carl Sciortino well. I like what he says on the issues facing the USA. I want to see more Democrats be like him: A Democrat being a Democrat.

Visit Carl Sciortino’s campaign site for yourself. He has a contribution option on the site. I think the ad is fantastic. I'm sure he could use some donations to help air it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why American health care costs are high

The video above is by John Green of the YouTube Channel vlogbrothers (the “Hank” he refers to is his brother and fellow vlogger on the Channel). It does a pretty good job of explaining why healthcare costs in the US are so high, and so much lower in other countries. It’s the first of a series of such videos, and part two, a capitalist argument for reform, is at the bottom of this post.

John mentions in passing the low cost of a particular drug in New Zealand, and he’s absolutely correct: The reason for that is the fact we have a central drug-buying agency (Pharmac) that negotiates with drug companies on behalf of the entire country. They have a set budget each year, and allocate the money based on the drugs most needed. This usually means that our prescriptions are massively cheaper than in the US—a bit like through some managed healthcare plans in the USA.

Because Pharmac makes prescription drugs affordable, it’s a non-negotiable thing for ordinary Kiwis. And yet, it’s continued existence is under threat from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) currently being negotiated in total secrecy. The current National/Act Government is determined to conclude a deal, but the question is, are they really prepared to cease to exist, and never form government again, if they agree to kill off Pharmac just to please the Americans?

Different countries have different solutions for healthcare, but the thing is, the USA’s is indisputably too expensive and inefficient. The USA can’t pick one country to copy, but there’s no reason it can’t pick and choose the most appropriate solutions from various countries. Something’s got to change.

Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy our cheap prescriptions, leaving the hospital without a bill and resting easy in the knowledge that no Kiwi will go bankrupt because they got sick or had a serious accident. As it should be.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Amiable incompetent

Today I read a great new phrase to describe John Key’s performance as NZ Prime Minister: Amiable incompetence. I think it describes him quite well, but increasingly he’s not so amiable.

Today we saw another example of the crony politics his government engages in. John Key’s Economic Development Minister, Steven Joyce, “persuaded” big players in the telecommunications sector to stay out of an industry campaign called the Coalition for Fair internet Pricing, which aims to stop John Key’s $600 million in corporate welfare for Chorus, the company laying the fibre optic cables for New Zealand’s ultrafast broadband (UFB) network.

The telcos say there was no political pressure, but they also want to be able to buy some of the radio spectrum the government will soon sell when the analogue TV network is completely switched off in a couple months. So, maybe there wasn’t direct pressure, but they want something from government, so would it really be prudent for them to be part of a campaign against the current government?

John Key’s plan is to let Chorus charge artificially high rates for copper wire Internet connections in order to subsidise Chorus’ profits as UFB is rolled out. The Commerce Commission, which regulates wholesale Internet pricing, proposed that the price for these connections should be cut by as much as a third next year. John Key declared that the Commerce Commission didn’t know what it was talking about and didn’t understand the law.

Key also had Amy Adams, his Commincations Minister, claim that if the price of copper wire connections was cut, people would choose it over UFB connections. If she’s really thinks that, she’s incompetent, too: The point of UFB is much faster speeds, which will make things like video streaming (services like Netflix) viable in NZ for the first time. Price is not the main issue, SPEED is, and it’s frankly appalling that she doesn’t know that.

Or, maybe Amy does, and maybe John knows that the Commerce Commission knows its job. These days, whenever anyone has the gall to challenge John Key or his agenda, he lashes out, calling them incompetent, unqualified—stupid, basically. Perhaps he’s projecting his own flaws?

This government is all about cronyism: If you’re pals with John Key or you're a plutocrat or oligarch, John Key and his team are there for you. But he doesn’t care about ordinary hard working Kiwis who struggle to feed their kids and pay their bills in the face of soaring prices.

John Key’s reason for selling off state-owned assets never made any sense, and was, in fact, designed to transfer the peoples’ wealth to those oligarchs and plutocrats. Then, against advice from Treasury, Key went ahead hand gave $30 million of corporate welfare—taxpayer money—to the multinational owner of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, no strings attached. He could only defend all these actions as he always does, by lashing out at his critics and opponents.

It’s now obvious why John Key is being so aggressive and belligerent when people dare to stand up to him: There’s nothing there. Like the Great and Powerful Oz, who turned out to me not so powerful after all, so, too, that “Nice Mr. Key” is all bluff. While he keeps up the “nice” fa├žade, he’ll increasingly be seen as New Zealand’s amiable incompetent, and as that becomes the dominant view, he’ll become more bitter until all that’s left is the incompetence.

The other thing it’ll mean is a new Labour-led Government after the next election.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

That Birmingham Sunday

I think it’s important to remember the past, good and bad, to know where we’re going. Sunday, September 15, 1963—exactly 50 years ago to the very day—was a very bad day in the history of the US Civil Rights Movement. On that day, the most heinous act of racist violence was committed. But, it turned out to be a turning point.

Early that morning, four racist terrorists planted a bomb under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Wikipdeia picks up the story:
“At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled ‘The Love That Forgives,’ when the bomb exploded. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14), were killed in the attack, and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins' younger sister, Sarah. The explosion blew a hole in the church's rear wall, destroyed the back steps and all but one stained-glass window, which showed Christ leading a group of little children.”
It was a terrible time in the US South, especially in Alabama and in Birmingham. Racists were everywhere—and in control. There had been a series of racist bombings in Birmingham, and a week before the attack, Alabama’s then-Governor, George Wallace, told the New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals."

After the bombing, the city of Birmingham offered a reward of $52,000 for information leading to capture of the bombers. Wallace added another $5,000, which lead Dr. Martin Luther King to wire the governor, saying: "the blood of four little children … is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder." That was an understatement.

At the time, no one was convicted of the murders. Justice would have to wait another 15 years until a new state attorney general reopened the cases and obtained the first murder conviction. By 2002, three of the four original suspects had been tried and convicted (the fourth died before he was charged).

However, the bombing brought new attention to the civil rights struggle, and it’s credited, at least in part, for helping to secure Congressional approval of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. So, the “first-class funerals” of those four little girls actually ultimately led to the end of segregation, though that would take many years.

The US, not just the South, is still living with the legacy of official racism. It will take many more decades before it starts to finally fade away—if, indeed, it ever does. But the murder of four little girls seared the conscience of a nation in a way that nothing else did or could; in a sense, they took our places, so we must remember those four little victims.

History is, by itself, neither good nor bad, but simply a record of what has happened. It’s up to each of us in every generation to decide anew what we will make of our inherited legacy. Will we seek to atone for the wrongs? Will we seek to make the world rise above what it has been? Or, will we allow the sins of the fathers to be visted upon the grandsons? The choice, always, is ours.

Remembering the past helps keep us from repeating it. 50 years ago today, four little girls lost their lives because of adults’ hatred. We should remember those little girls, honour them, and redouble our rsolve that such infamy should never be repeated. Can we do it? I have hope, if sometimes only that.

“Those who cannot remember the past,” George Santayana said, “are condemned to repeat it.” Have we learned? Do we remember?

The low-resolution image above [Source] is of the four girls killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), Carole Robertson (aged 14) and Denise McNair (aged 11). The use of this image is contended to be a fair use, since it is used solely for educational purposes in a not-for-profit publication, and is necessary for cultural and historical purposes, and the material value of the possible copyright is not believed to be lessened by its use here. Since the image is limited web-resolution, and only a small portion of a copyrighted work is used, it does not limit the copyright owner's rights to sell the image in any way.

Related: Joan Baez – Birmingham Sunday

The winner is…

Official NZ Labour Party Leader Election Results.
The new Leader of the NZ Labour Party is David Cunliffe. He won a clear victory and has a mandate from party members to lead the party to victory in next year’s election. Well done on a great campaign, and congratulations!

Cunliffe won in the first round with 51.15% of the vote. Grant Roberston won 32.97% and Shane Jones had 15.88% (official results above, click to embiggen; SOURCE). The fact that Cunliffe won a majority in the first round is about as clear a message as there can be: Labour Party members wanted Cunliffe, so he has a clear mandate from them. Pundits immediatley pointed out that Cunliffe did less well among the party’s caucus in Parliament, suggesting that the party was “divided”. However, they overlooked an important fact: Politicians can read election results, and they know that Cunliffe has a clear mandate, so their job now is to move forward with Cunliffe as the Leader—and they will.

I gave Cunliffe my second preference for the reasons I listed yesterday. But as Labour Party General Secretary Tim Barnett said on today’s livestream announcement, supporting one candidate did not mean we opposed the others. David Cunliffe has a lot going for him, as I also said yesterday, and from what I saw, the campaign he ran for Leader was about as good as such a campaign can be. That bodes well for the General Election campaign next year.

I’ve said all along that defeating the National/Act Government next year is the most important task facing the Labour Party. To do so, it must be united. Cunliffe says that, too: "We must beat John Key In 2014 and we will only do that by mobilising the entire party, the affiliates, the membership and the Caucus."

Of course ideology also matters, and based on what Cunliffe said during the campaign for Leader, I have every reason to believe that he’ll leave the “Third Way” in the dustbin of history. As I said yesterday, Labour has to give voters a reason to change the government, and “That can’t be done simply by portraying Labour as “National Lite”, but rather as an alternative to National, a change in direction, not just more of the same.” This is why the ideological shift matters so much.

Pundits in the NZ news media have been saying that whoever won the Leadership election would tack rightward because that’s what “always” happens. As evidence, they cited the example of US primary election campaigns, which shows how little they understand US politics: Republicans never move back to just right of centre anymore, but stay on the hard right, and, increasingly, Democrats are staying on the liberal side. Accuracy aside, those pundits entirely miss the point.

The reality is that tacking rightward would again make Labour a kinder, gentler version of National, and that doesn’t win elections for Labour—being Labour does. People want an alternative to the neoconservative economic philosophy of National/Act, and they want an end to being victimised by their own government. What they want are jobs and a fair go, and Labour can only deliver that by setting out on a new course. The pundits may not like that, but the people who vote, will.

So, I congratulate David Cunliffe on his victory, and I also congratulate him, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones for running decent, principled campaigns that stayed focused on the issues, no matter what the news media, pundits and some partisans did on the sidelines. I’ve never seen such a dignified political contest before, and all three can claim credit for that. The Labour Party hierarchy, especially Tim Barnett, also did a fantastic job of organising the campaign and keeping members informed, so they should get congratulations, too.

Now, with that done, off we go—forward to victory in 2014!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My choice is made

Screen capture of my ranking just before I submitted it.
Tomorrow is the deadline for Labour Party members to cast their ranked preferences for the new leader of the Labour Party. I took my time to make up my mind, and yesterday I voted online. I gave my first preference to Grant Robertson.

This was a much harder decision for me to make than I’d expected. I had to balance my ideology with my desire for Labour to win the next election and lead government. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure the two goals were compatible, but then I remembered a chat I had with a family member a few weeks before David Shearer resigned: Labour, I said, needed to make a bold choice to shake things up, not just go with business as usual, and it needed to return to core Labour values.

When the three candidates announced, there was one, Shane Jones, that I could rule out immediately. He’s said and done many incredibly stupid things while in Parliament, and has a reputation for being sexist and homophobic. At the very least, his unnecessarily flowery language strikes me as arrogant and show-offy. His answers to questions during the course of the campaign have been underwhelming for me, and he’s clearly the most conservative of the three candidates. There was no way I’d support him, and I knew from the start I’d rank him third.

That left David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson. The left-most activists in the party went into overdrive to push their chosen candidate, Cunliffe. There have been plenty of accusations that the Cunliffe supporters (I don’t think he himself did so) were using dog whistle politics by constantly bringing up the fact that Robertson is gay. They then expressed outrage that anyone would accuse them of bringing up Robertson’s being gay for political advantage, thereby bringing it up again.

The supporters also tried hard to present Cunliffe as the only true leftist in the race, that Robertson would drag the party to the right if he became leader. This ignored both Cunliffe’s own right-of-centre history as well as the campaign statements of both men who clearly said they thought the old ways were over and it was time to return to Labour’s core values. What became clear to me is that neither one is a secret rightwinger (Jones is openly in the rightwing of the Party).

So, since ideology wasn’t the determining factor for me, despite the hectoring from Labour’s left, it then fell to who I think can best lead Labour to victory.

At 41, Grant Robertson is the youngest contender. Should he become Leader, that, and the fact that he’s gay, would mean a dramatic break from the past. He would be the boldest choice among the three contenders. Robertson is likable, has a good command of issues, a good sense of humour and he can take on John Key in the House. The main criticisms I’ve heard of him, even from the leftists, are that he’s gay and he’s fat, neither of which are legitimate reasons to vote against him.

Like all the gay people I know, I don’t automatically support a candidate just because they’re LGBT: They must earn my vote, just like any other candidate has to. I know gay people who are supporting Cunliffe and others who support Robertson—exactly as it should be. So, Robertson doesn’t have an edge among LGBT Labour Party members.

I seriously doubt that most New Zealanders are any different. Instead, from the evidence I’ve seen, they’ll vote based not on the Labour Leader’s sexuality, but rather, what he can do for New Zealand. So, Cunliffe doesn’t have the edge there.

In the election campaign next year, whoever’s the Labour Leader will have to present a case for changing the government. That can’t be done simply by portraying Labour as “National Lite”, but rather as an alternative to National, a change in direction, not just more of the same.

I believe that either Grant Robertson or David Cunliffe has the necessary skills to do that, and whichever one of them becomes Leader will have my full support. However, based on all that I said above, I believe Grant Robertson is the best choice, so I ranked him first and David Cunliffe second.

We should know who the new leader is sometime tomorrow, if everything goes well. I’m more concerned about the PARTY doing well next year and that's ultimately what was behind my ranking Grant Robertson first.

Ads can look good

This video is an ad, but it’s visually stunning. It promotes US Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle's new app-based game, "The Scarecrow," which the company invites people to use to “join the quest for wholesome, sustainable food.”

I’ve never been to a Chipotle, so I can’t comment on them, their food offerings or whether either are wholesome or sustainable. However, we’d all be much better off—healthier and less fat, for starters—if we ate food that was real food, not the over-processed crap we find in supermarkets and most restaurants. So, if this helps people at least think about what they eat, that’s not a bad thing at all.

And, in any case, the ad/film is done really well, and I wish more ads were as visually interesting.

The song used in the background is "Pure Imagination" performed by Fiona Apple.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Seventh Blogoversary

Today is the seventh anniversary of when I began this blog. On Wednesday, September 13, 2006, I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” Seven years! Wow.

Last year, I said
“I would never pretend that all those nearly 2300 posts so far are ‘good’ in any objective sense, but quite a few, in my biased opinion, certainly are. Some are duds, of course; it’s in the nature of these things.”
I still think that. However, to be totally honest (and a little less modest), I’d say that among the now 2,655 previously published posts are some of the best things I’ve ever written. The fact that some (many?) posts fall far short of that mark doesn’t make the good ones any less good.

I’d like to think that over the past seven years I’ve become a better writer or, at the very least, better at recognising what makes a good blog post. Whether or not the first part is true, the second clearly isn’t, because it turns out that readers don’t always agree with my opinion on what’s “good”. Posts that I think are really good may remain relatively unread, while others I think are “meh” have large numbers of page views. That probably proves that no one should write to what they think readers want.

My Blogaversary posts from previous years collectively provide the story of this blog, and each year I try to add something different to that story. This year, it’s actually something that someone else said about his blog.

Roger Green recently commented on something another blogger had written, about being magpie bloggers, attracted to Shiny Things. He wrote:
“The problem with that is that I often move onto the Next Thing, less out of boredom, but the need to find something mentally Shiny, I suppose. Intellectually, at least, the phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is pretty true of me. I know very few things in depth, but I know a little about a lot of things.”
Yes, that’s it exactly. Putting aside the question of whether I have any particular expertise or not, I certainly often abandon topics, only to return to them when they’re shiny again.

Roger continued:
“Sometimes, people have suggested that I ought to focus this blog on one or two topics. There’s only one reason why I don’t: I don’t wanna. But it is interesting that people look to me for whatever expertise I might have.”
Personally, I’m glad that Roger doesn’t focus on only one or two topics, because the magpie-ian diversity is what I like so much about his blog. No one has ever told me to focus, but there are times I thought I “should”. I once even created a separate “spin-off” blog for my posts about politics, mostly US politics. The idea was that I could then focus this blog on New Zealand stuff. I wrote about that at the time, and it’s what led me to create the topic badges on the left side of the page.

The real reason I didn’t spin-off politics into a new blog, in addition to what I said at the time, is that I’m like Roger: I’m a magpie blogger, and, quite frankly, I like it that way just fine, thank you.

I still enjoy blogging, far more than I ever thought I would—and sometimes a bit more than I probably should. Basically, it’s a helluva lot of fun. The best part of it for me, as I’ve said many times before, is the interaction I have with others, and finding new friends like Roger.

So here we are seven years on. That cuppa from my first post may be a bit cold by now, so best you pour yourself another. And leave a comment while you’re at it: We have things to discuss, and—oh, look! Shiny!

Thanks for joining me on this seven year journey.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)

Something happy

Everybody needs to see something happy every now and again, and sometimes we don’t even realise it. For me, this video was like that. Romance and love are awesome, and when both are celebrated, well, it’s a pretty great thing, I think.

This video shows a choreographed mob of family and friends helping Spencer propose to Dustin, the love of his life, and done to the song "Somebody Loves You" by Betty Who. I think it’s really nicely done, but one of my favourite parts was actually when Dustin takes out his phone to take a photo of the spectacle; it was a very real moment amidst the spectacle.

Sometimes, we all need to see something happy. I didn’t realise how much I needed that today until I saw this video. Romance and love are awesome.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

18 years ago today

On September 12, 1995, I arrived in New Zealand and met Nigel in real life for the first time. It was the day that would set into motion what would turn out to be the biggest—and best—change in my life.

Back in 2010, I summed up what I think is important about this date:
“We tend to lose track of the minor anniversaries in our lives—the small dates that lead, ultimately, to the bigger dates we do remember. Mentioning such a date here is my small way of remembering what became life-changing, a series of events that began, really, on September 12, 1995.”
And that’s why I blog about this every year, and will as long as I have a blog: It mattered, even if it was overshadowed by other events and other anniversaries. This day, 18 years ago, is when things really began.

I’ll end with something I said last year, because it’s as true now as ever, and another reason why seemingly minor anniversaries are nevertheless important:
“Never underestimate the power of love to make the improbable possible, or to transform the unlikely into an entirely new life.”
Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)

Tactical withdrawal

One thing is obvious about me: Politics matters. And yet, I’m withdrawing from it a little. There’s a reason, of course.

I’m not withdrawing from all politics or, more to the point, discussing it: This blog is the home for whatever is on my mind at any given moment, and very often that means something political. Those who are interested can play along with me and those who aren’t don’t have to stop by.

However, it’s a little different on social media, where we interact with a wide variety of people. Awhile back, I accidentally noticed—because I don’t pay attention to such things—that someone I know and care about in real life had “unfriended” me on Facebook, and it was almost certainly because I talked about US politics a lot last year (we see things differently, shall we say). That gave me pause. I’ve since changed my approach to Facebook.

As I’ve said many times, Facebook has the highest percentage of people I know in real life of any of the social media I take part in. Many of those IRL people are apolitical and a few are even anti-political (and a few more have politics rather the opposite of my own). While I wouldn’t deliberately choose to alienate anyone, these particular people aren’t casual enough that I want to jettison them from my life.

And so some weeks ago, I started cutting back on the overtly political things I posted to Facebook. At first, I limited political posts to being only about New Zealand politics, but then I started cutting back on that, too. Now, pretty much my only “political” posts are when I blog about something political and it shows up in my news feed on Facebook because of the Networked Blogs autopost. That may not continue forever, either.

The consequence of this is that I’ve been posting less stuff to Facebook overall. To some, that may be a bad thing, but to others it’s a good thing. Either way, it definitely means far less politics. What this also means, I hope, is that if I do post something political to Facebook because it’s important enough to me that I feel I must, people will notice and not just tune out because it’s yet another liberal political post from me. A sort of less is more approach, and it’s why I call this a “tactical withdrawal”: I’m hoping that if I talk about politics less, the people I need to reach will listen more.

Obviously I haven’t completely parted company with politics on Facebook (or anywhere else): I still take part in discussions about political things that other people post (I have several politically-minded friends, most of whom think more or less as I do). And, in addition to this blog, I post overtly political things to Google+ and to Twitter, both of which are less personal for me than Facebook is. So it’s not like I don’t have other options.

This is my solution. As far as I’m concerned, it’s like any social situation: We take our cues from other people and how they act, and most people I know on Facebook were nowhere near as political as I was. If I made the wrong choice, people will tell me, unlike those who thought I was too political and didn’t tell me. But I think that for me this is a sensible balance.

We’ll see if I can stay withdrawn.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One year on Earth

I ran across the image above as part of the Washington Post’s40 maps that explain the world.” Created as part of NASA's Blue Marble project, it shows the annual seasonal changes and variations in vegetation. This is what makes life on this planet possible.

What struck me is how very different the two hemispheres are, with the snow cover expanding and contracting much more in the north than the south (though you can see the changes in New Zealand’s South Island).

But I think it also shows how fragile our planet is. As the Post put it, “…the Earth is, for all its political and social and religious divisions, still unified by the natural phenomena that make everything else possible.”

You’d think we’d take better care of it then, eh?

Tip o' the Hat to my friend Kyle in Hawaii who posted a link to the Post article on Google+.

Monday, September 09, 2013

That Australian election

I doubt that anybody’s the least bit surprised at the results of the Australian election and the return of hard-right government to the country. The reasons are clearly Australian, and yet, there’s more to it.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) made it’s own election disaster—the Liberal/National Coalition didn’t win as much as the ALP handed them victory on a silver platter. Kevin Rudd, who led the ALP to victory in the 2007 elections, was rolled by his Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who led the party to a squeaker of a victory in the 2010 elections. A few months ago, Rudd rolled her and became Prime Minister again, but he couldn’t stop the party’s slide toward defeat.

It’s true that the Australian news media was hard on Gillard, but she did herself no favours: She was arrogant, aloof and couldn’t connect with ordinary Australians. Rudd was viewed as hapless. The incoming Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is hard right and unpopular, but with nothing better in the ALP, he became more attractive than he could have hoped to be if the ALP had had a popular leader.

But the results also demonstrate, yet again, how truly awful Australia’s election system is. In official, but undeclared, results, the Liberal/National Coalition will have about 88 seats in the 150 member House of Representatives. The ALP will have about 57 (for both parties, “about” because as of this writing, some seats are still undetermined). But on a two-party preferred vote, which is what the Instant Run-off Voting system used for the House of Representatives elections delivers, the ALP got 46.86% and the Coalition got 53.14%, which pretty closely mirrored the results of opinion polls. 79.71 seats).

If Australia had a proportional system like New Zealand, then the ALP would have about 70 seats (not the 57 they got) and the Coalition would have about 80 seats. There were a few MPs elected who were not of either party, and under a system like MMP that would affect the final totals. But the point is, the final result doesn’t very closely match the actual preferences of the electorate. That can’t happen in New Zealand.

Similarly, since 1937 there have been six elections in which the party that won the majority of the Two-Party Preferred vote did not have a majority of seats: 1940, 1954, 1961, 1969, 1990 and 1998. In all but one of those elections—1990—it was the ALP that was disadvantaged.

Still, I doubt very much that Australia will move to MMP or another proportional system, even though it definitely could—and, in my opinion, absolutely should. So, elections will continue to be waged in what is mostly an old-fashioned First Past the Post election system with a more democratic veneer.

The new government will be very conservative. Abbott, who once studied to become a catholic priest, is stridently opposed to marriage equality. While Julia Gillard was, too, she allowed the ALP caucus to cast conscience votes on a marriage equality bill in the House, which is the customary way such issues are handled. Abbott refused to allow a conscience vote on the issue, forcing all of his MPs to vote against it as a bloc. That will not change. More than likely, marriage equality can’t arrive in Australia until the next Labor Government, which won’t be for at least three years, but more likely six or more years from now.

Defeated Prime Minister Rudd, who had opposed marriage equality the first time he was Prime Minister, changed his mind and promised a bill in the first 100 days of a re-elected ALP government, and said there would be no referendum. Ironically, Gillard softened her stand toward the end of her time in Parliament (she retired at the election)—too little, too late. Abbott is unlikely to permit a marriage equality bill to come before Parliament, but if he does, he’ll make his Caucus vote against it again. He also won’t permit a referendum (polls show a clear majority of Australians favour marriage equality.

All elections have consequences, and there will be many negative consequences from Australia’s election. The good thing about democratic elections, though, is that we get to change governments if we don’t like the people running them. I hope we get to change our government next year.

Update 10 September: In the comments to this post, I mentioned a crackpot “Christian” preacher who called for his minions to fast to change the government. Predicting what was to come, I said, “Everyone knew Rudd would lose, so now that guy will claim his—basically—imprecatory prayers worked.” Of course, I was right. The crackpot said: “A miracle has occurred. A victory has been won, but the battle is far from over. We thank you for your continuing prayers." Fact: There was no miracle—the expected result happened exactly as expected. Fact: God(s) or no god(s), his particular, peculiar version of one clearly had no influence if the result was exactly as expected. I stand by my sincerely held belief: That “Christian” preacher is a fraud and a charlatan.

Weekend Diversion: Steve Grand (again)

Two months ago, I posted Steve Grand’s debut video, “All-American Boy”. He’s back with his follow-up, “Stay” (video above). I really like this one, too.

Where “All-American Boy” was about unrequired love, this video celebrates love—the boy gets the boy. The video depicts the joy of being with a lover, one that could have been lost, but is found again. But it’s also notable for the way in which the friends share in the fun; young people today are so very different from when I was their age—not just more accepting, but also more humane.

This video is all about fun and happiness, and the joy of being in love. It’s great to see such upbeat, affirming songs and videos. I wish this sort of thing had been around when I was a kid, but it’s here now, and that’s an incredibly good thing.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What does the fox say?

This is probably the most bizarre music video ever made. I’d say more but, frankly, I have no words. You can leave yours in the comments—about this video, alternative nominees for most bizarre or maybe what the fox says.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The drastic expat solution

In this instalment of Yahoo’s “Who Knew?” video series, they look at the record number of Americans renouncing their US citizenship. Record, yeah, but still a pretty tiny number.

Part of the reason it’s so low may be that the USA makes it difficult. However, the bigger reason may be the implications: Once citizenship is renounced, ex-Americans need travel visas to visit the USA, just as all foreigners do, and they can’t stay very long or work there. Also, apparently the fact that one has renounced their US citizenship pops up on computers at the border when an ex-American enters the US, which could make them subject to “heightened scrutiny”.

The video says the increase is mostly because of draconian new tax laws in which US expats’ overseas assets (including their home) can be taxable under some circumstances, and requiring foreign banks to report the balances of some cash accounts of US citizens, even when the amounts are relatively small. I’ve seen anecdotal reports that some non-US banks are refusing to open accounts for US citizens because the compliance costs are too high.

There are ongoing negotiations about this, as are attempts to find a solution in Congress. But there isn’t much of a political will to treat US expats fairly, so I’m not optimistic that there will be changes any time soon. My impression is that Republicans, controlled, as they are, by their xenophobic teabagger faction, seem to regard expats as being somehow “less American” than people who live within the USA, so, by extension, we “deserve” to be treated badly. I get this mainly from their rhetoric on immigration reform in the USA, as well as their rhetoric about immigrants generally. At the very least, I’ve certainly seen no evidence that they value expat US citizens.

Ultimately, it will take Congressional action to sort this out, but if Republicans win control of Congress and the White House, the resolution could be in the opposite direction: Making things worse for expats, even outlawing dual nationality. On the other hand, if Democrats win, things could get very much better. Maybe.

In the meantime, US citizens living overseas will continue to renounce their US citizenship in order to live their lives in peace. That may be a pretty drastic solution, but some will feel it’s their only choice. I think that’s really sad. Let’s hope a solution is found before that “record number” really does become a big number.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

NZ’s craziest MP?

So, then this happened today during Question Time: A Member of Parliament asked a minister about blowjobs. Seriously. The minister answered it was not her responsibility (video above).

The List MP from the rightwing NZ First Party, Asenati Lole-Taylor, was asking Police Minister Anne Tolley about street prostitution in South Auckland, a subject with which the MP seems particularly obsessed.

Asenati makes frequent use of Twitter, where she ducks even reasonable questions put to her and instead tends to attack people who disagree with her. She’s also an anti-gay bigot, among other things. She’s done nothing at all for Pasifika people in South Auckland, and is known only for mounting, so to speak, her sex-centred quixotic campaign against prostitution (prostitution carried out by adults is legal in New Zealand, though street prostitution isn’t).

She’s not necessarily really the craziest MP in the NZ Parliament—particularly because she has so much competition within her party’s caucus, which is made up of bigots, crackpots and tossers (figuratively speaking, of course).

Still, even though I have such a low opinion of her, she nevertheless made me feel sorry for National’s Anne Tolley. I’ve always thought Tolley was incompetent and out of her depth in every portfolio she’s held, but today, for the first time ever, I actually felt some sympathy for her. Who says a NZ First MP, no matter how crazy, can’t do something positive?

I think that’s quite enough sarcasm and snark for one day think. Okay, just one more: Question Time is actually called—ahem!—"Questions for Oral Answer". And today Asenati really put the "oral" into it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Labour Leader contenders’ ads

Grant Robertson on Labour's future from Grant Robertson on YouTube.

New Zealand has never had such an open contest for leader of one of the two main political parties as it has now with Labour. This explains why National is tyring so hard to trash the contest, the contenders and their proposals. If New Zealanders get a bit of a taste of democracy, they’ll want more, and National isn’t prepared to let them have it.

The video above is the campaign ad for Grant Robertson, one of the three contenders for Leader of the Labour Party and the current Deputy Leader of the party. At the bottom of this post is a campaign video from David Cunliffe, another candidate. The third, Shane Jones, doesn’t seem to have done a video, but Robertson and Cunliffe are considered the frontrunners, anyway.

In both videos, the candidates try and articulate what they see as Labour Party values and talk about how they relate to those values. I think they both do a pretty good job of that. Not surprisingly, they both say some very similar things.

I give the edge to Robertson because he also talks about specific issues, such as jobs and education. Also, Robertson’s ad is more visually interesting, and I particularly liked Robertson’s updating Norman Kirk (near the end of his video), giving Kirk “a modern voice”.

I haven’t been able to attend any of the candidate meetings, which I’d hoped to do. I was busy on Saturday, and my plans were made long before the meetings were announced, and I couldn’t change them. As it happens, the two Auckland meetings were held in spots that weren’t very accessible for me.

Nevertheless, the mainstream newsmedia has helped me see the candidates side-buy-side, and I’ve listened carefully to what they’ve said. I’ve also tried to read what they’ve said.

Voting for Leader is a little more complicated than I thought at first: Instead of voting for the one person I want to lead the Party, I have to rank them in order of preference. I know for sure who I’ll rank third, but I haven’t decided for certain who I’ll rank first and who I’ll rank second.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the show.

David Cunliffe on Labour values and legacy from David Cunliffe on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Ad banned in Australia

The video above is an ad from GetUp Sydney and criticises ex-Australian Rupert Murdoch for using his papers to try and help Tony Abbott, leader of the rightwing Liberal Party, win the Australian federal elections on Saturday. Naturally, the mainstream media couldn’t allow it to be shown.

The ad has been banned by commercial TV stations, leading GetUp to lodge a formal complaint. The question is, is the ad fair?

My opinion—and it is only mine—is that, yes, it’s fair. Rupert has always used his media to promote his political interests: It’s the whole reason he set up Fox “News”. Far right billionaires using media to control the debate and manipulate the public is always wrong because they always do it with an eye toward what’s good for their own bank balances. Which is why it would be such a disaster if the crackpot Koch Brothers got control of Tribune Company in the USA.

So, yes, I’m sure that Murdoch’s media in Australia absolutely is trying to steer the election toward victory for Abbott and the rightwing. The question is, even if ordinary Australians were able to see the ad, would it change their mind about how they’ll vote? I doubt it, and Rupert can claim some credit for that, too—this isn’t an overnight rightward shift, after all.

Rightwing billionaires trying to buy elections, and to hoodwink voters into doing their bidding, is nothing new. But people ought to be able to know it’s happening. Banning this commercial doesn’t serve the public’s right to know.

GetUp’s best-known ad outside Australia is probably their marriage equality ad from a few years back. I still like that ad.

Happy Labor Day, USA

It’s Labor Day in the USA today, a holiday many Americans don’t really understand. As Roger Green points out, the day was “NOT invented by Hallmark”. Still, people take it for granted as if it was.

Roger also talked about the history of the federal holiday coming into force in 1894, but one aspect that I always found fascinating is that the date of the USA’s Labour Day was set in September in part to make sure that May 1 didn’t become Labor Day, something that the conservative ruling elites of the day greatly feared after the Haymarket Riots in Chicago in 1886. Conservative Democratic President Grover Cleveland, who signed the Labor Day bill into law, was no friend of labour, and in 1894, he sent the US Army to Illinois to break-up the Pullman Strike over the express objection of the state’s progressive Democratic Governor, John Peter Altgeld (who himself had used the state’s militia during the strike to preserve order).

It would be decades before the US government’s fight against organised labor would start to diminish, only to be resurrected by today’s conservative ruling elites who are, again, trying to destroy unions and workers’ rights. Unions are responsible for the minimum wage, outlawing child labour, the 8-hour day, workplace safety regulations and a whole host of things no sane worker would want to see taken away because all workers benefit from them—which is part of the reason why the conservative ruling elites want to take them away.

The video above is by a UK supporter of unions and workers’ rights, and is several years old. I’ve seen similar backwards/forwards structure in other videos, and it usually works quite well to compare/contrast. What I like about the text in this one is that it explains simply how a unionised workplace can have enormous positive benefits for businesses, despite the claims of empty rightwing propaganda.

Unions have done so much for workers—unionised and not—and we mustn’t forget that. Labor Day ought to be a day when we remember just a little bit of how much better things are for workers now than they were in the 19th Century. You can thank organised labour for that.

New Zealand’s Labour Day, which commemorates the 8-hour workday, is the last Monday in October. This year, NZ Labour Day is Monday, October 28.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A NZ Thicke parody (NSFW)

The NZ-made video above (language NSFW) is one of the latest in a growing genre of parodies of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. This one is by Auckland University’s Law Revue, which is an annual comedy sketch show written and performed by law students. With its woman-centred focus (and naughtiness) it’s a bit of an antidote to the original—which I’ve still never seen in its entirety, actually (I’ve seen many parodies, though).

Clearly this particular earworm isn’t ready to die quite yet.

Update – September 3, 2013: YouTube has deleted the video for being "too sexually explicit", but a clip of it can still be seen in the linked articles and on the 3News site.

Update 2 – September 3, 2013: The video has been restored to YouTube. Auckland lawyer Rick Shera (@lawgeeknz on Twitter) wonders if the problem wasn’t “sexually explicit” content, but YouTube’s ContentID robots auto-deleting what it thinks is infringing content. He also points out the fact that NZ lacks the same “fair use” copyright exception that the USA and many countries have (except in very limited circumstances). Meanwhile, Diane (@di_f_w on Twitter) sees what’s right about the content and its underlying message (I think she’s spot-on).

IFLS on YouTube

Like, 6.7 million other people, I follow the “I Fucking Love Science” Facebook Page. The host, Elise Andrew, posts links to articles about the latest scientific findings, jokes, quotes from famous scientists, and so on. I think it makes a nice balance to some of the other stuff I see on Facebook.

Now there’s an IFLS YouTube Channel, too, with weekly videos focusing on some of the top science stories of the week. Above is the second in those weekly videos.

There’s so much anti-science nonsense in the world, and not just within rightwing politics and fundamentalist religion. Too many people believe superstitious nonsense despite real science demonstrating the provable facts. Such people aren’t necessarily conservative or religious, but they are too willing to accept things that simply aren’t true and then act based on that.

An antidote to the ignorance is accessible scientific explanation by the people once called “science popularisers” (a field now usually called science communication, and includes scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson). There are a lot of them now, and YouTube makes this science communication very accessible. The new IFLS YouTube Channel is basically just another among many, but given the popularity of the IFLS Facebook Page, it may ultimately reach a lot of people.

I think that making the knowledge we’ve gained from scientific examination accessible is a a very important function of science itself. And when it can be done in an entertaining way, it’s even better.

About this video in particular: I was struck by the bit at the end about the "second death" of Neil Armstrong. I saw the posts on Facebook that Elise refers to and wondered what that was about. For a moment, I thought I was the one who was confused (this was early in the morning, before my first coffee…), but I was sure I'd read about his death a long time before. I then remembered that I'd blogged about Neil’s “first death” last year. Still, it's not the first time that people have been confused about events in the news. I just thought that one was particularly bizarre.