Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gallup: Half of Illinois wants to move

A recent Gallup survey found that half of Illinois and Connecticut residents want to move to another state. On the other hand, only 19% of Illinois respondents say it’s at all likely they’ll do so.

Among Illinoisans who say they’re very likely to move, 26% said the reason was work or business related (the national average was 31%). The second biggest reason was Weather/Location (and I can’t blame them for that…) at 17% (11% national average). The other possible reasons were: Quality of life/Change at 15% (9% nationally), Cost of Living at 9% and Taxes at 8%. Tied for last place were Family/Friends and School-related, both at 6%.

Quite frankly, I would’ve expected taxes to be much higher on the list, given how often Illinoisans I know—all over the political spectrum—complain about them. The reality probably is that everyone complains about taxes, but that doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong motivator for moving. In fact, most of us would probably think that the top three reasons that Illinoisans wanted to move were reasonable.

Still, it may seem a bit of a surprise that half of the Illinoisans surveyed wanted to move away. This surprise has to be tempered a bit by the fact that people move around all the time.

The three states with lowest percentage of people saying they wanted to move were Hawaii, Maine and Montana, each with 23%. They, together with New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas—with 24% wanting to leave—make up the six states where fewer than one quarter of respondents reported wanting to leave.

Had I not found Nigel and moved to New Zealand, I might have moved away, too, and my reason would have been “Change” (possibly with “Weather” nipping at its heels…). In the end, of course, that’s what I got, and it turned out great. As I often say, I was moving TO something, not FROM something, and I think that makes all the difference.

Helpful Facebook newsfeed hint

Recently, I noticed that I was no longer seeing posts from the pages I “Liked” on Facebook—and I “Liked” them TO see them! Here’s how to fix it.

First, go to the page you previously “Liked”. For this example, I’m using the campaign Facebook Page for Richard Hills (photo above), but this works for any Facebook Page for groups, people (including friends) or businesses. Next, click on the “Liked” tab (or, for a friend, on the “Friends” tab). On the pop-up that opens, click on “Get Notifications”, and that’s it—you will now see all posts in your newsfeed [Disclaimer: This has always worked for me so far; your mileage may vary].

This whole situation came about because Facebook changed the way it handles newsfeeds as part of its monetising of its services. As a result, the number of people who see posts from pages they’ve liked plummeted dramatically (and the complaints from page owners increased at least as fast). Page owners had to pay to get more people to see their posts, and many balked at that.

I don’t know that Facebook made this fix widely known (I found it by accident), but when I follow this procedure I see posts from pages I’ve “Liked” for the first time in ages. I honestly don’t have a problem with Facebook charging page owners for their pages to be widely seen, however, users should still be able to ensure they see what they want to see, and this workaround seems to do that. I’m fine with it.

This was helpful for me. Good luck!

Curious words

Some of the conservative reaction to the NZ Labour Party’s monetary policy has been, um, interesting. We’ve the usual unhinged hysterical overreactions, but it's the supposedly “mainstream” conservative reaction that’s so very telling.

The main rightwing reaction has been to claim that the plan would somehow cost hardworking Kiwi families money and make it take longer to pay off their mortgages. But that’s just nonsense, and probably a case of the rightwing trying to scare voters by saying absurd things.

Under the current situation, when inflation rises too much, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) raises interest rates. This means higher payments for people with mortgages. That money goes to the foreign-owned banks who ship the money overseas. That money is lost to New Zealand and to the family with a mortgage—gone forever, and they have higher payments, possibly taking longer to pay off their mortgage.

Under Labour’s plain, the RBNZ could increase the variable saving rate (VSR) instead. That money would go to Kiwis’ retirement savings, meaning that they get to keep their money. Also, more of it would be available for investment in New Zealand.

The important thing about this is that either way, Kiwis will have less disposable income because THAT’S THE POINT OF THE RBNZ INTERVENING! The reason they raise interest rates, or why they’d raise the VSR, is so that Kiwis spend less money and the economy cools off. The difference is that under Labour’s plan, Kiwis could keep more of their money, rather than giving it away to the foreign-owned banks.

But another important aspect of this is that under the current system, when the RBNZ raises interest rates, it makes the Kiwi dollar stronger, driving up the cost of our exports. If they raise the VSR instead, the dollar won’t rise, and that, in turn, will mean that Kiwi exporters will be more competitive. The net effect is that under Labour’s plan we have a far better chance of exporting more stuff overseas, and that means jobs for Kiwis here in New Zealand.

Add it all up, and what the rightwing is really arguing for is for Kiwis to give their money to bankers, not keep it, and for a high Kiwi dollar that reduces exports and kills jobs. And that’s why the rightwing whingeing is so absurd.

Labour’s plan will help ordinary Kiwis directly by letting them keep more of their money while still allowing the RBNZ to control inflation. Labour’s plan will also help exports, and that means Kiwi jobs. The conservatives are apparently against all that.

And that’s why the Labour plan is so much better than what the conservatives are doing now, and why we need to vote to change the government on September 20.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monetary Policy Upgrade

As the New Zealand election draws closer, we’ll see parties announcing more policies, and today the Labour Party announced a big policy: Labour is proposing a major change to dealing with inflation, which will help New Zealand.

As part of its monetary policy, Labour proposes to make Kiwisaver mandatory, and to then give the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) a new power in the fight against inflation. Instead of merely raising interest rates to dampen demand, the RBNZ will be able to adjust a variable savings rate (VSR), which would mean that it could compel people to contribute more to their Kiwisaver account.

Currently, the RBNZ can only raise interest rates to lower demand to ease inflation. That has two terrible effects: First, it increases mortgage payments of ordinary Kiwis. Second, it causes the Kiwi dollar to rise, which hurts exporters by making our products more expensive. Neither is good.

Under Labour’s plan, however, the RBNZ will be able to increase the VSR to dampen consumer spending, but it won’t raise the cost of mortgage payments or increase the Kiwi dollar. Moreover, the money that Kiwis will pay in the raised VSR will be theirs: It will go into their savings, NOT into the coffers of foreign-owned banks. That’s good in itself, but it will help increase the amount of capital available here in New Zealand for businesses, without them having to look overseas.

“Labour’s changes will work with our Economic Upgrade focussing on investment, innovation and industry policies,” David Parker, Labour’s Finance Spokesperson, said. “Alongside a capital gains tax, our KiwiBuild housing policy, universal KiwiSaver and reduced costs to businesses through NZ Power, Labour is offering an alternative that will help Kiwi families and ensure our economy can create better jobs and higher wages.”

This policy is very good, and is drawing praise from the business and finance sectors—in fact, the only critics I’ve heard have been aligned with the current National/Act government, as would be expected. Ironcially, considering how little attention the National Party pays to ordinary Kiwi families, they’ve actually said that this policy would hurt Labour supporters, but that’s nonsense: The National/Act government’s policies are keeping house prices high, hurting ordinary Kiwis, and they’re keeping the Kiwi dollar high, which hurts exports and kills jobs.

This policy is yet another reason why on September 20 we need to vote Labour to change the government.

More information on Labour’s Monetary Policy is available online.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Viral NZ video

It’s not every day that a video from or about New Zealand goes viral. The video above is the latest one to show up in my Facebook newsfeed and even onto the ABC (USA)’s evening news. That’s pretty viral.

The video description on YouTube says:
“British man Adam Walker is accompanied by a pod of dolphins on his quest to conquer the Oceans7! The Dolphins stayed with Adam for more than an hour and swam around him playfully getting close enough for Adam to touch. A fantastic experience for all involved.”
Of course, the news angle was that a Great White shark was swimming below Adam and the dolphins showed up and, the reports said, protected him. It’s a nice feel-good story, just the sort of thing to go viral.

It always amuses me when I see videos about or from New Zealand showing up on my social media feeds. Sometimes I haven’t seen the viral video, but, more often than not, the video is old—sometime very old. In this case, we saw it on our news when it happened, and then a few days later it started showing up on social media.

At least in this case the world saw what we here all know: Even our wildlife is friendly and helpful. That’s a good thing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Things change quickly

It’s becoming almost impossible to keep up with the pace of change on marriage equality in the USA. Yesterday, the graphic at the top of this post was accurate. Today, it’s already less so.

The graphic comes from Americans for Marriage Equality, part of the Human Rights Campaign, and was published on their site’s page, “Marriage in the Courts”. It has other interesting infographics, and the status of various court challenges to marriage equality bans. The site notes:
Since the Supreme Court ruled in Perry and Windsor, not a single state marriage ban has survived a federal court challenge. These rulings on the merits in the marriage cases have occurred in three state courts and nine federal district courts since the Supreme Court’s decision last June. [emphasis in the original]
This weekend, a lesbian couple from South Dakota will be married in Minneapolis by the city’s mayor, Betsy Hodges:
The couple, Nancy Robrahn, 68, and Jennie Rosenkranz, 72, say that along with two other gay South Dakota couples, they plan on filing a federal class-action lawsuit against state officials.

Robrahn and Rosenkranz will argue that South Dakota should recognize same-sex marriages when performed outside of the state. In addition, the suit will seek to overturn South Dakota's statewide same-sex marriage ban enacted by a constitutional amendment in 2006.
Also, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled, according to the ACLU, that the state’s “property tax exemption violates equal protection because it treats unmarried same-sex couples differently from married heterosexual couples, even though they are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the program.” It seems to me that this strengthens the inevitable challenge to Alaska’s marriage equality ban itself.

So, the graphic that was completely up to date earlier this week is on the verge of becoming out of date. The pace of change on marriage equality in the USA is very fast.

Could their be trouble lurking silently in the background? Writing on Truthdig, Bill Blum says that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action poses a threat to marriage equality. This is largely because some of the rulings struck down state voter referenda, and the Schuette decision held referenda in high regard.

However, it’s important to note that the legal tests applied by lower courts could also be used by the Supreme Court to uphold those rulings, particularly because such voter bans of marriage equality (and their continued defense) have been motivated by anti-gay animus.

No matter what happens, though, this fight won’t be over any time soon. We have determined and extremely well-financed adversaries who are approaching this not as a matter of politics, but as a quasi-religious crusade. They’re not about to give up, even if their more secular rightwing comrades see the writing on the wall.

This means that if we do have a set-back at the Supreme Court, our adversaries will be ready to seize the opportunity presented to them. Even so, given how much has changed already, and how much more will have changed by then, the best our adversaries could do is slightly slow down the march toward the inevitable: 50-state marriage equality. But that delay would also mean a continuation of their often ugly and vile campaigns against LGBT people.

This is why it’s so important to keep moving forward, to keep fundraising and organising until the final victory is won. However, it’s also important to not let this fight be our only issue, because ending discrimination and violence against LGBT people is arguably more important to more people than marriage equality alone, important as that is.

In any case, it’s becoming almost impossible to keep up with the pace of change on marriage equality in the USA. Despite all the uncertainties and possible vulnerabilities, that’s not going to change.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Saving myself

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I seem to get all “ppht” about Internet fights around this time of year. Last year, I talked about not talking about adversaries. This year, it's comments. Well, not commenting, actually.

It all started because I got an email from Twitter reminding me it’s my seventh Twitterversary. I thought it was yesterday, but never mind that pesky detail (timezones!). I Tweeted this fact (of course) and posted it to Facebook and Google+. I was having a bit of a laugh at the intense meta-ness of posting about a social network anniversary on other social networks. It was all a bit of fun.

Then Facebook went and spoiled it all when someone said something stupid.

It was no one I knew—a friend of a friend—but it was such utter delusional nonsense that my jaw literally (yes, literally) dropped (remaining literally attached to my head, fortunately). It doesn’t matter who said what to whom about what; suffice it to say, the person’s comment was factually wrong, silly, and, as I suggested above, delusional.

It was an outrage! Errors needed to be corrected, truth and facts needed to be asserted! So, I did—nothing.

Time was, I would have jumped in to fight for truth and facts, but not today. Lately, I’ve had the strangest sense that I can’t tell who is a troll and who is expressing sincerely held (and sincerely batshit crazy) opinions. We all know there are some sick folks out there who get their jollies out of upsetting people on the Internet, and these days I can’t tell those people from real shockingly misinformed people.

So, these days, more often that not, I just say nothing. I’ll engage with people I actually know, whether I agree with them or not, because we can have a civil discussion. But the people I don't know? It’s a crap shoot, and I don’t want to risk getting caught in the sights of a crazy person.

These days, I turn, as I did last year, to the cartoon at the top of this post. It still keeps me out of trouble and helps me save myself. It also means I never run out of antacid.

The well-known cartoon at the top of this post, "Duty Calls," is by cartoonist xkcd. Publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A tour of the British Isles in accents

The video above is a tour of the accents of the British Isles with examples spoken by dialect coach Andrew Jack (the audio is from the BBC). Posted three weeks ago, it’s already had around 1.1 million views.

The video demonstrates that there’s no such thing as a single “English Accent”, but there are, in fact, many within England itself, and many more in the British Isles generally.

This is actually true about most countries. For example, there are also regional variations in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I have no idea if there are variations in countries that don’t speak English, but I’d be surprised if there aren’t—we’re all humans, after all.

This is just a bit of fun to end the day on; after a couple earlier, heavier posts, I wanted something lighter, and YouTube delivered. Again.


I wrote recently about how our friends on the far right use the word fascist as if they actually understand what it means, when they clearly don’t. Well, one of the examples I cited has gone full-on comedian… unintentionally and dangerously.

In that earlier post, I quoted extensively from BamBam because while he’s made a career out of saying extremist, hate filled, bigoted things about LGBT people, he’s also actually pretty typical of the rhetoric spewing from the anti-gay industry.

He continues to excel at what he’s best at.

Jeremy Hooper wrote on his Good As You site that BamBam’s “ever-classy site suggests gay people are literally crushing fellow humans”. What he was specifically referring to was a cartoon of people (presumably gay) on a big pink steamroller called “GAYROLLER 2000” about to crush creaming people under their big rainbow roller. The thing is, that graphic was stolen and used without permission.

The original graphic is by Matthew Inman on his The Oatmeal site, which says at the bottom that “All artwork and content on this site is Copyright,” and adds, “Please don’t steal.” BamBam is such a good Christian that he didn’t steal—oh, wait, yes he did (the stolen graphic has since been removed).

The graphic was actually part of a larger comic illustrating the use of the word literally (VERY much worth checking out, by the way, and available for purchase as a poster). Accompanying the graphic in question, was this:
The (thankfully) late Jerry Falwell provided this quotation before his death in 2007: “If we do not act now, homosexuals will own America! If you and I do not speak up now, the homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women and children who get in its way… and our nation will pay a terrible price!”
The context of the comic shows, first, that the far right has always used hysterical (in both senses of the word) hyperbole to attack LGBT people, and second, that the comic was actually attacking the sort of hysterical (in both senses of the word) hyperbole that's a standard fixture of BamBam’s site, whether he’s written the overt-the-top scribblings or some other anti-gay extremist has.

But Hooper's piece also highlights many of the other over-the-top anti-gay graphics, most of which invoke Nazisim, of course, but one also refers to “AL-‘GAY’DA TERRORISTS”. That last one wasn’t funny just because of the use of all caps, but also because even in attacking LGBT people, they had to—simply couldn’t help themselves!—put the word gay into quotation marks, which is how they always use the word, usually even when it’s in a proper name, like of an organisation (alternatively, they also sometimes change it to homosexual, often with hilarious results).

Now, I laugh at these losers more often than not, except when otherwise sensible mainstream news organisations turn to them to provide “balance” when discussing LGBT issues. I’m sure that any day now I’ll see, say, CNN, have a KKK Grand Wizard on to discuss the civil and human rights of Black Americans—any day now, because, BALANCE!

BamBam and his friends have clearly changed their game, and they’re no longer merely fighting against the civil and human rights of LGBT people. As Hooper put it:
Folks, they've stopped debating us and are now trying to make our fellow citizens hate us. I wish I was overstating that—I really do. But I simply can't un-see what I am seeing. The denigrations are getting louder and more personal, and the goals are seeming far more sinister than they did in the past.
I agree. What was once mere over-the-top silly (and often crassly stupid) hyperbole has become a clear campaign to portray LGBT people as scary monsters. The hatemongers and bigots of the anti-gay industry know what we all do, that when people learn that the people they know, respect and love are LGBT, their opposition to us fades away. The ONLY hope that the bigots on the far right have is if they can take on that simple reality and instead make people see us as scary monsters. THAT is what all this over-the-top talk of fascism is really all about.

The logical response in situations like this is to stand up to it. First, LGBT people must come out to as many people as they safely can. Second, everyone—LGBT people and our straight allies—must speak up and object when we see or hear this sort of hyperbolic nonsense. If enough of “the good guys” start pushing back, the power of the bad guys’ lies will evaporate.

The good news is that good beats bad when it’s given half a chance. We just have to give good the support it needs to win against the bad.

Worst political ad?

The video above is an attack campaign ad for South Carolina from the Republican Governors Association. It’s a contemptible political ad, but is it among the worst ever made?

The ad attacks Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic candidate for Governor in South Carolina. He’s a former prosecutor who now represents both civil and criminal clients in his private law practice. As ThinkProgress points out:
The implication of this ad is that Sheheen is somehow unfit for public office because he once provided legal counsel to people accused of crimes. Indeed, the ad lists several serious crimes, including sex offenses and child abuse, that Sheheen’s clients were accused of committing. It is likely that many of these clients are very, very bad people.

But in the American justice system, we do not presume that anyone is guilty of a crime until after they have received a trial where they were represented by counsel — indeed, we afford all criminal defendants a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Moreover, as the Supreme Court explained more than half a century ago, the right to a trial often means little unless criminal defendants enjoy the right to counsel. Without an attorney, Justice Hugo Black wrote in 1963, an innocent man “faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence.”

Sheheen’s clients may very well have committed horrible crimes. But we do not lock people away in prisons in the United States until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is how we protect innocent men and women from winding up in those same prisons alongside the guilty. [links in the original]
It’s disturbing that the Republican Party thinks that people accused of crimes—perhaps wrongly—shouldn’t receive a vigorous defence, yet their line of attack in this ad certainly implies that. As ThinkProgress noted in the link above, this isn’t the first time Republicans have gone down this road, putting their partisan ideology ahead of justice under law.

What this made me think of was two previous Republican attack ads also described as the “worst-ever” American political ads. The first was the “Willie Horton” attack ad [link goes to YouTube] from the 1988 presidential campaign of Republican candidate George Bush the First. The second was the even more disgusting “Hands” attack ad [link goes to YouTube] from Republican US Senator Jesse Helms.

The difference is that the two previous “worst-ever” attack ads were blatantly racist, while this new attack ad is far subtler about it, relying on viewers’ stereotypes about who commits crimes without actually saying or showing anything like the two previous ads did, an approach that gives them plausible deniability if they’re accused of racism. The Republican Party knows that many fair-minded people would give them the benefit of the doubt because the racism isn’t explicit as it was in the earlier attack ads.

The Republicans’ attack on the fundamental principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, combined with their subtle racism, certainly places this ad on the list of the worst American political ads, but I’d say that Helms’ “Hands” attack ad against Harvey Gannt is still the worst, and the “Willie Horton” ad is far higher on that list than this one is. But if this attack on fundamental principles of law shows what the “modern” Republican Party thinks about the very concept of “innocent until proven guilty”, then that’s very frightening, indeed.

I hope that this attack ad is as bad as the Republicans will get. Somehow, I just don’t believe it will be.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Labour will support veterans

The New Zealand Labour Party has announced that if it forms Government after the September election, it will expand support for veterans. I think this is good move and I look forward to seeing it implemented.

Under Labour, “the Veterans Pension [will] be extended to all former veterans who have served offshore in a zone of conflict.” This is an important change because the current bill before Parliament sets the whole-person impairment threshold (at which a veteran would become eligible for a Veterans’ Pension) at 52 percent.

Labour says the policy will cost “just over $11million in 2014/15 declining to $8.4million in 2017/18”. The costs will continue to decline “and will not rise again for several decades when veterans who have served in Bosnia, Timor Leste, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan reach retirement age.”

I’ve always felt that those who serve their country in a zone of conflict deserve special rewards in recognition of their service. Labour’s policy will ensure that all such eligible veterans receive a War Pension, which seems to me to be the right thing to do.

This is good policy, and just one more reason I’ll be to voting Labour in the election September 20.

Service Members support freedom to marry

The video above is an ad from Why Marriage Matters Colorado, a coalition of organisations working to win the freedom to marry in Colorado. This particular ad is best described on the YouTube description:
Three military veterans who, together with their friend, U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant T. Ashley Metcalf—who is still actively serving his country—represent 45 years of military service. Sgt. Metcalf is gay, and his band of brothers—former Army Staff Sgt. Izzy Abbass, retired U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Mont'Ros, and former Marine Sgt. Will Glenn—talk about the importance of the freedom to marry for everyone.
I think the ad is effective for many reasons. First, it helps to show the broad-based support that the freedom to marry enjoys. Mostly, it’s effective for putting the issue simple: The straight veterans wonder why their gay friend should be denied that same freedom to marry that they have—especially when he served his country to guarantee that freedom? It’s a good question.

As I always say, there’s no such thing as a rational, secular reason for opposing the freedom to marry. This ad reinforces that fact, and is well done.

The science of ignorance

Just before Earth Day, a new Associated Press-GfK Poll revealed the state of Americans’ ignorance of science. It’s not a pretty picture at all, though maybe not entirely as bad as many are saying.

Most of the coverage so far has been based on taking the top two most positive results and comparing them with the bottom two least positive. I think this is a function of the options offered to respondents.

Respondents were asked a series of questions on scientific matters, things that are considered settled science. For each question, respondents were asked to state how confident they were the statement was true, and their possible answers were: Extremely confident, Very confident, Somewhat confident, Not too confident or Not at all confident (those who refused to answer or didn’t answer were also measured).

The middle response was that people were “somewhat confident”, which still expresses confidence that the statement is true. I would’ve thought that the correct middle response would have been something allowing someone to state they were “neither confident or not confident”—though since I can’t figure out how to word that clearly, I wonder if that could be the reason it wasn’t the middle point.

How this plays out in the news media coverage is that it drops out the people who are “somewhat confident” the statement is true, which makes Americans look to be more doubtful of science.

The problem in this can be seen in two very different questions.

Asked about their confidence in the statement, “Smoking causes cancer”, the vast majority (82%) were “Extremely/Very confident” the statement is true, while only four percent were “not too/not at all confident”. It doesn’t matter if the “middle ground” answer of “somewhat confident” (12%) is included in those who are confident because the overall confidence of respondents is clear.

But look at a very different statement: “The average temperature of the world is rising, mostly because of man-made heat-trapping greenhouse gases.” The news media reported—accurately—that nearly 40% of Americans are “not too/not at all confident” that the statement is true, which is alarming in itself, but added to that the fact that a mere 33% of Americans are “Extremely/Very confident” the statement is true, and it’s a very scary result—or is it? Fully 28% of respondents were “somewhat confident” the statement is true, which means that a clear majority of Americans—61%—have some level of confidence that the statement is true. That’s a very different impression than the one created merely by looking at the two ends of the spectrum and seeing that confirmed climate change deniers clearly outnumber those who back climate science.

We see the same thing on the statement “The Earth is 4.5 billion years old” where 60% of respondents have at least some confidence that’s true (27% “Extremely/Very confident” and 33% are “somewhat confident”), and a mere 36% don’t.

The only statement on which the science-deniers have a slim majority was “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang”, where 51% of respondents were “Not too/Not at all confident” that this is true, and a mere 21% of respondents were “Extremely/Very confident” (25% were “Somewhat confident”, for a total of 46% who had some level of confidence). This profound ignorance about the Big Bang led Vox to publish “Most Americans don't believe in the Big Bang — here's why they should”—not that the science deniers would be willing to read it, let alone accept it as fact.

Even with the reservations about the somewhat misleading picture given by not including “Somewhat confidents” in the total of people who are confident a statement is true, despite that, this is a pretty disheartening look at Americans. How can the country hope to compete in a global economy when it denies some of the most fundamental facts of science?

The poll doesn’t attempt to answer that question (which I think is obvious: It can’t), nor does it say why ignorance of scientific facts is so widespread in the USA, so I will: Fundamentalist religion and Big Money.

Fundamentalist christianity has been waging war on science pretty much as long as they’ve been around. That picked up speed as their political fortunes began to rise some four decades ago. For them, the universe and everything in it was created some 6,000 years ago over six days of 24 hours each. Because of that, they have to deny that “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang” and that “The Earth is 4.5 billion years old” or that “Life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection”.

It seems to me, though, that religious belief isn't the sole reason for science denial. A non-scientific statement included in the poll, “The universe is so complex, there must be a supreme being guiding its creation” found a majority (54%) were “Extremely/Very confident” that was true, and another 18% were “Somewhat confident”. That means only 25% of Americans didn’t believe that was true. Even so, despite this religious belief, majorities of Americans accepted scientific truth on all but one question.

I think that the fact that there are plenty of Christian scientists who see no conflict between their religious beliefs and scientific facts probably accounts for the fact that majorities of Americans know the earth is billions of year old and that evolution is a fact. I suspect that the reason a slim majority doubt the Big Bang has less to do with religion and more to do with simply not understanding the science.

Big Business is the other major factor in creating scepticism about science. It has a strong vested interest in convincing ordinary people that climate change doesn’t exist: Their profits would plunge if people take action to reduce greenhouse gasses. Because of that, it’s in their financial self-interest to fund disinformation campaigns to undermine science by creating confusion. This becomes linked with fundamentalist religionists and crackpot conspiracy theorists, who deny the science for their own reasons, leading to what I think is the truly surprising thing about the poll results: The fact that a majority of Americans DON’T deny the science of climate change.

By sowing doubt in science and fostering rejection of the scientific method, Big Business is helping to fuel general anti-science attitudes as well as encouraging people to ignore science. That, in turn, leads to people expressing scepticism about settled science.

So, taken as a whole, the poll paints a depressing picture of Americans’ lack of scientific knowledge. The picture may not be quite as bad as the news media are making it sound, but it’s still pretty bad.

The only way to fix this terrible situation, and to end silly “debates” about settled science, is to increase science education in the schools. If more people understood science, we wouldn’t waste so much time on silly arguments that are based on mere emotion and feeling, not reason or facts. I’ve Very Confident of that.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Internet Wading for April – Tittynope

These Internet Wading posts are a home for the leftovers, the bits and pieces that never become published posts. They are blogging tittynopes.

That’s a real word, one I’d never heard until Roger Green shared it. Which is as good a place as any to start this month’s wading, since I basically copied the idea for these posts from him.

Fist up, and oldest leftover, Lambda Legal has a map where people can “check any state to learn more about its legal protections for LGBT people and their families” in the areas of “Marriage and Relationships” and “Workplace”. It’s the easiest way I’ve yet seen to check on the legal status of LGBT people in various US states.

Throughout the world, most of the resistance to the full legal equality for LGBT people comes from those with a conservative/fundamentalist religion, and the ABC (USA) programme This Week asked, “Are Evangelicals Out of Touch With Mainstream Views?” I would’ve thought the correct answer was, “DUH!”, considering their rapidly declining influence in the USA, but apparently the Evangelical leaders and activists see things differently. Who would’ve guessed?

Speaking of religion, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project recently published their The Religious Diversity Index (RDI) listing the Religious Diversity Index Scores by Country. Users can click on the tables to re-sort them by any of the column titles.

It turns out that “the less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene.” Surprised? Me, neither.

A classicist said the quote from Virgil inscribed on the 9/11 Memorial in New York City is “shockingly inappropriate”. As Abraham Lincoln once said, you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet.

What about the future? The BBC presented a “Timeline of the far future” and drily notes, “There may be trouble ahead…” Yes, but interesting.

Speaking of reading things on the Internet, NZ Herald reporter David Fisher (who I kind of know in real life) published an opinion piece, “Life is meant for living, not tweeting”, in which “he explains why he's become a Twitter quitter.” I was sorry to see him go: He and I had had quite a few interesting and/or amusing exchanges in the time he was on Twitter. I think David lays out what in my opinion are legitimate reasons for the move. I think Twitter (like Facebook) is most useful when used the least, and when it’s used for a reason, not mere entertainment, nor to cause trouble. But, that’s me.

Something else that gave me pause was “Completely Surreal Photos Of America’s Abandoned Malls”. They said of it, “An inside look at nine abandoned malls. There is nothing creepier and more fascinating.” I think that’s a fair assessment. About the same time, I saw a bunch of commentary about the “de-malling” of the US, but most of that wasn’t nearly as interesting as the photos.

Speaking of the past, I was intrigued by “Blast from the past: Teacher mails letters students wrote themselves 20 years ago”. It was a story about a 72-year-old retired teacher from Saskatchewan. For some 25 years, he required his 14-year-old English students to write 10-page letters to their future selves. Then, after 20 years, he started mailing them to the students he was able to track down. I’d say about this, too, that “there is nothing creepier and more fascinating”, but I have old diaries I can always read, and that’s not usually creepy.

Speaking of old things that are new again, there are apparently “129 movie sequels currently in the works”. This is the longest list that Den Of Geek has ever complied. They wondered, is this: “a sign of the times? It may just be.”

And, I suppose, each of these Internet Wading posts is a sequel to the one before it. Or, maybe it’s just a tittynope. In either case, maybe it’s time to stop wading and dry off for this month.

Thinking on the holiday

It’s the end of another Easter Holiday weekend—four days off with two statutory holidays Friday and Monday) and two days with trading bans (Friday and Sunday). And that’s almost all I can say about it.

My mother-in-law was staying with us, then on Sunday a niece and her new baby came up and stayed with Nigel’s sister. We all went over to another niece’s place for afternoon tea, and had a lovely, family time. A little shopping thrown in, some meals, and that’s the short version of this weekend.

Originally, I had many other things I was going to talk about, too. I knew that I’d talked about my dad’s stage management of his Good Friday and Easter Sunday church services (that was back in 2009, it turns out), but I didn’t remember that I’d also mentioned what my mother always said on Easter morning when I was a child; had I not checked old posts, I would have mentioned it this year, so that led me to look at what else I’d already said.

Also in 2009, I mentioned a childhood conflation of Easter and President Lincoln’s assassination. I wasn’t planning on mentioning that again, but I was going to talk about the trading bans in place this weekend. Glad I didn’t.

I first talked about this particular holiday weekend back in 2007, including details about the trading restrictions. Two years later, I said, “Personally, I think if we can’t go three and a half days without buying stuff, then there’s something seriously wrong with us.” Two years later, in 2011, I’d reversed my position:
“Today, for the first time, I began to believe that it may be time to end the trading bans on 3½ days of the year. New Zealand is now a modern country in a different age from when the ban originated, and I’m beginning to think that the trading bans belong in the past, too.”
Last year, I took the middle ground—between my selves, as it were. I think my own differing takes on the same issue shows that I wrestle with the correct answer. This year, for the record, I’m back in favour of ending the bans, but I’m not willing to go to the barricades over it.

What this little stroll through my blog’s archives have shown me is that I’ve talked about Easter as an entity from my past, and the current reality of a secular holiday weekend. I’ve never talked about why it suits me perfectly to have a secular Easter, and, in fact, I almost did this year. I decided, ultimately, that was actually a big topic, and one for another day.

It’s a holiday—I don’t feel like thinking that hard right now.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Normal Heart

The video above is the trailer for the HBO original film, The Normal Heart. Based on Larry Kramer’s famous play, it tells the story of the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic, and how gay people fought back. It’s “must-see TV”.

Kramer’s play (he also wrote the screenplay) a strongly messaged story, pulling no punches as it captures the desperation of those early days. It looks as if that the film captures that quite well.

The film is directed by Emmy Award winning director Ryan Murphy (of Glee and the The New Normal, among others), and features a star-studded cast, including Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts.

As Mark Ruffalo’s character says near the end of the trailer: “You can’t stop fighting for the ones you love.” That’s what the story is all about.

Gay men of a certain age strongly remember what those days were like: The grieving and loss and outrage as friends died and no one in power gave a damn. We remember when people in power seriously considered suggestions that the government should tattoo all gay men, and that people with AIDS should be quarantined in concentration camps. We remember when we had vicious enemies in the halls of power, many of whom—like dead Jesse Helms—did all they could to prevent any action by the government because they wanted us all dead.

Times changed only because people gave a damn and fought back, Larry Kramer among them. I was one of the “suit and tie” activists, lobbying politicians to be fucking human beings for a change and actually do something. But, as I’ve said so many times before, our access to politicians was made possible by the angry ACT-UP activists in the streets. We never moderated or toned down our message, but thanks to ACT-UP activists, we seemed so calm and moderate by comparison that we got access that we’d NEVER have had otherwise, and we used that access to force change. Most of the progress over the past 20 years is built upon the successes of 30 years ago, and those successes were built on the activism of Kramer’s ACT-UP.

All of that—the activism, the protests and, ultimately, the successes—happened because we were fighting for our lives, and the lives of the men we loved. Failure was NOT an option.

So, I’m excited about this film, so long in the making, because it will help to tell the real story of those frightening and empowering days more than three decades ago. Those of us who survived the Plague Years have a duty to speak up, first, to ensure that the stories of those we lost are never forgotten. But we also must speak up to remind people that so much of the pain and suffering of those early years was needlessly exacerbated by cold, brutal, heartless, inhuman and even evil politicians. Times have changed, but the threat from politicians like that is the same now as it was then, even if there are fewer of them in positions of power—for now. Things can change very fast.

There’s one reason we continue the fight: “You can’t stop fighting for the ones you love.”

The Normal Heart premieres on Sunday, May 25 in North America, and I presume it’ll screen in New Zealand on Sky TV’s SoHo Channel, which is basically HBO in this country.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stuff about New Zealand

I often mention stuff about New Zealand, past, present and future. That’s part of what this blog is about, after all. So, I was interested in a list shared on Facebook yesterday—and surprised.

I could quibble about a few of the items on the list, “69 Facts About New Zealand That’ll Blow Your Mind” not because they’re wrong, but because some are a bit misleading without context.

But what was interesting to me about the list actually was one particular thing I didn’t know:
4. In the scene of Star Trek: First Contact, where we see Earth from space, Australia and Papua New Guinea are clearly visible but New Zealand is missing. [link is in the original]
I’ve seen the movie several times, at the movies and at home, and I’d never noticed that. That’s odd, because I usually notice that sort of thing right away. Somewhere I have a photo of Nigel and me in front of the metal globe outside the Universal Studios theme park in California, pointing to the spot on the globe where New Zealand should be (a photo of the globe, without New Zealand, or us, is on Wikimedia Commons).

All the other stuff on the list is basically true, though not always exactly as its presentation implies, like, for example:
59. New Zealand is the only country with the right to put Hobbit-related images on its currency.
While it’s true that the commemorative coins were legal tender, they were never introduced into circulation—they were sold to collectors. This is a good example of something that’s literally true, but not in the way the statement implies. Still, NZ being the only country with the right to do this was the main point, and that's absolutely true.

Overall, this list is accurate, even if sometimes a little bit misleading. I’ve seen plenty of similar lists on the Internet, and the information is sometimes just flat-out wrong. In this case, it’s actually possible to learn a little about New Zealand from a list. And, of course, I’m happy to talk in more detail about things on the list if anyone’s really curious (in fact, I’ve already talked about some of them in earlier posts).

One more thing this list reminded me: It’s not always necessary to be serious when talking about New Zealand. A little light-heartedness and fun never hurt anyone.

Labour's Economic Upgrade for manufacturing

The NZ Labour Party has begun announcing policies it will initiate if it forms the next government. The video above is about Labour’s plans for boosting manufacturing. I think the policy’s quite good.

Manufacturing has been struggling for years, and the current National/Act government has done little to boost the sector. A 2013 Parliamentary enquiry into manufacturing (a copy is available for download at the link above) provides the base for Labour’s policies, which means that they’re solidly grounded in real-world, practical solutions.

Boosting manufacturing in New Zealand won’t necessarily be easy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done—that’s part of what we have governments for, to do the hard work on behalf of us all. The current government has been reluctant to take on this job, but Labour will.

Add this to the long list of reasons why New Zealanders need to vote for Labour and change the government.

Tooth and consequences

It all began with a quest for a prettier smile, but ended up being somewhat serious. It also touched on many of my fears and anxieties before it focused on avoiding death. Yeah, it was big. And it took all my focus for the past few weeks.

I’ve always hated my smile—always. While I can forget about it when I’m “in the moment”, whenever I think about it, I won’t smile with my teeth. This is why I’ve posted so few photos of me smiling broadly.

This is something that is usually taken care of in childhood, but my parents didn’t have the money to send me to an orthodontist—not that they ever said that, I just knew and I never asked. I didn’t want to be a burden. I wouldn’t let the dentist bring it up with them, either.

So, many decades later, I decided to do something about it. While it’s still as expensive as ever, I knew it’d be easier to pay for now than it would be after retirement.

Next, Nigel made the appointment for me, because he knew that I’d put it off indefinitely: I’m quite a coward when it comes to seeing a dentist, cosmetic or ordinary. I'm frightened of the pain, but I also didn’t like them telling me off (as I perceived it…) for not doing a good enough job cleaning my teeth.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went for an initial consultation with a dentist who specialises in cosmetic dentistry (as well as doing general dentistry), and he found I had decay on one tooth (not a surprise). He could also tell I had gum disease, so he recommended repairing the tooth rather than replacing it with a crown. That option also cost a fraction of what a crown costs, which was fine with me.

My next stop was the periodontist, and it turns out that things are bad, and my journey to a prettier smile is now on hold. Over the next seven months, I have four treatment appointments and two follow-ups, possibly more, all depending on how well I respond to the treatment. Worst-case scenario, I could lose four teeth, though at the moment the periodontist feels confident that he can stabilise the situation to prevent tooth loss for some years.

This treatment is very important because periodontitis can, if left untreated, lead not just to tooth loss, it can also increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. I’m already at higher risk for both, being over 50 and overweight (“fat and 50s”, as I put it—though less overweight than I have been…). So, I have to overcome my aversion to dental procedures to get this done, and the initial four treatments will be done within about ten days starting May 2. I’m not mucking around—I want this taken care of.

The periodontist also recommended that I see my doctor for a check-up, because of the increased health risks, and I did that, too. The doctor ordered routine blood tests (which I’m taking as my baseline to see how things improve). I’ll also do a bowel screening test. If that’s positive, they may recommend a colonoscopy, a test that isn’t routinely done in New Zealand like in the USA.

I got advice on physical activity, specifically, the best way to start using our elliptical (aka cross trainer). The doctor seemed pleased to hear we had one because it’s low impact, but also offers intense physical activity. Guess I better dust it off.

Finally, I got an influenza vaccination (we’re in late autumn, so the flu season isn’t far away) and a combined booster shot for tetanus and whooping cough. I hadn’t heard it before, but she said that adults need a periodic booster for whooping cough, even if they were immunised as a child, like I was. Bottom line, they’re aware of what’s going on and can monitor my general health (which is fine right now).

Some seven months from now or so, it’ll be clear how well the periodontal treatment has gone, and what the longer-term prognosis is. Then, in consultation with the periodontist and cosmetic dentist, I’ll be able to see the orthodontist and begin the next phase. That one could be more than a year long.

Then I can go to the cosmetic dentist for the final bits. Again, this, too, will depend on how well I respond to the periodontal treatments. Worst-case scenario (at the moment): This could theoretically involve getting crowns, bridges and/or implants.

So, this is going to be a multi-year story arc, which means I’ll get a few blog posts out of it. Yeah, I’m grasping for things to be positive about.

The reality is, at least some of this situation is my fault: I didn't see the dentist often enough, I didn’t floss enough, blah, blah, blah. But it’s also possible that genetics played a role: I could be genetically pre-disposed to periodontitis. While I don’t remember my parents ever mentioning having gum problems, that doesn’t mean they didn’t; I can’t ask them now, obviously.

Despite all that, how I got into this situation really doesn’t matter now: I can’t change the past. All I can do is take responsibility for fixing it, and that’s what I’m doing. Since my visit to the periodontist, I’ve brushed twice daily without fail and used my little interspatial brushes (which generally work better for me than flossing) every day. And, of course, I booked all four periodontal treatment appointments to make sure I keep the momentum going, and I saw my G.P. for a check-up.

The theme that runs through this, really, is that while I started this journey to feel better about my appearance, it’s become more about correcting health issues so I can be fitter, stronger and healthier in the years ahead. That’s much more important than buying a pretty smile—ain’t that the tooth—um, truth.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stories of LGBT Pasifika youth

The video above is a segment from the NZ TV programme Tagata Pasifika, and profiles a show put together by Pasifika youth to talk about gay and trans* issues for youth in Pacific Island communities. It’s challenging for some, and not just because of the title, but because of its honesty.

One of the important things about this is that it’s youth telling their own stories, rather than people talking about them. I also think it’s good for Palagi/Pakeha to hear these stories as a way of learning how things for Pasifika LGBT youth can be completely different than for youth of European ancestry.

With a little luck, there will be more shows like “Teen Faggot”, more opportunities for youth to tell their own stories. That’s a good thing whenever that happens.

Fascists and friends

Lately, the rightwing has been demonstrating that there’s another word they don’t understand at all: Fascism. They use it as a general epithet against LGBT people, even though they clearly have no idea what it means—or do they?

One definition of fascism that I can freely quote is this:
“A political regime, having totalitarian aspirations, ideologically based on a relationship between business and the centralized government, business-and-government control of the market place, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights. Originally only applied (usually capitalized) to Benito Mussolini's Italy.”
That’s a fairly typical definition, and it’s clearly not even remotely true of LGBT people: We are not the government or big business, let alone a union of the two, nor do we control either, nor do we have a leader to form a cult around (or, actually, even a group…), nor do we exalt the state above individual rights.

What the radical right anti-gay industry is doing—much as they do with their bible, actually—is picking and choosing the parts they like and ignoring the rest. The radical right is actually merely using the word as a way to highlight their paranoid persecution fantasies, in which they think they’re “victims” of “bullying” or “homofascism” because of their religious beliefs. It’s not just a paranoid delusion, of course: It’s also a deliberate lie.

The radical right anti-gay industry believes that if they can portray themselves as “victims” and LGBT people as violent, aggressive bullies, they can stop progress on LGBT human and civil rights generally, and the freedom to marry in particular. This is why they’re pushing the "fascist" slur so furiously: They know it’s nonsense, but there’s no more dramatic symbol of repression than Nazi Germany, so the anti-gay industry is trying to make ordinary Americans think of LGBT people as modern-day Nazis.

The radical right has been using this terminology for a while now, but with a recent noticeable increase in frequency. The resignation of Brendon Eich as CEO of Mozilla unleashed a flood of abuse from the radical right: They called us “fascists”, “homofasicsts”, the “Gaystapo”, among other related slurs (a few examples are on Joe.My.God.).

The prize so far for the most deranged and unhinged attack goes to BamBam, who wrote recently (http://bit.ly/1mTdSsR) that LGBT people are “homofascists” and the “Gaystapo” because we’re “hell-bent on criminalizing Christianity”, and that we’re “a radical, hateful, intolerant, obnoxious, fascist, evil and power-crazed group of sex-obsessed anarchists who demand that we all affirmatively celebrate their deviant and self-destructive sexual sins.” Glory! Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!

Seriously, even though it was clearly an unhinged rant, this guy (who has often made bigoted slurs against LGBT people) tells us exactly why he and the anti-gay industry are pushing this hatred so hard:
“Sadly, many people, even many Christians, think that I and others are using hyperbole when we refer to this sexual anarchist ‘LGBT’ movement as ‘homofascist’ or the ‘Gaystapo.’ I hope you’ll think again. It’s time to wake up and smell the impending anti-Christian persecution. It’s fully at hand.”
I rolled my eyes so hard at that pile of bovine excrement that I could see the back of my head. But he wasn’t done with rhetorical excess or thickly laying on Nazi-references:
“Christians, buckle up. Your whole world is about to change. The Rainbowshirts are emboldened and they’ve broken out the long knives. They smell blood in the water. I’ve often said that these folks want those who speak Biblical truth [sic] about human sexuality and legitimate marriage [sic] either 1) dead, 2) imprisoned or, if they can have neither of these, 3) marginalized to the point where they can’t even support their families. Check No. 3 of f the list. I guess they’re working backwards.”
What BamBam was saying there is that Nazi Gays (the “Rainbowshirts”) are coming to kill “Christians” like him. Well, maybe just lock them up. Well, maybe just make sure they can’t make millions of dollars from trying to deny LGBT people their civil and human rights a living. Because on BamBam’s planet, one guy forced to quit is exactly the same as killing him! Pay attention, sheeple!

I quote at length from this lunatic because what he said is typical of what other bigots in the anti-gay industry are saying: They’re ALL using the same extreme rhetoric. Here’s another one:
"It is time for the rest of us to wake up. Tolerating the same-sex movement has been a very bad idea. You cannot tolerate what undermines democracy and ultimately destroys society. The same-sex lobby are the new Nazis. Their strategy consists simply in intimidating possible opponents. The vicious campaign against Brendan Eich is ultimately directed not only against him, but it sends a message to anybody who has not yet submitted to the dogma of same-sex bigotry: we will go after you, and we will destroy you.”
There’s also the Indiana preacher who declared that “Adolf Hitler's 'Race Of Super Gay Male Soldiers' Is Taking Over America”. Apparently, we want all Christians dead, their heads on the wall. Or… something.

If these people seem too crackpot to be taken seriously, consider this: They’re all bringing up fascist imagery all the time. A lie repeated often enough becomes truth: It doesn’t matter that some of these people are clearly a few sandwiches short of a picnic: If they keep repeating the “Gaystapo” slur enough, normal Americans will start to think there’s “an element of truth” in it—well, that’s what the radical right anti-gay industry’s plan and hope, anyway.

There is so much irony in the far right’s meltdown over Mozilla, but, obviously, that would all be lost on them. But let’s start with this: They boycott all the time! I recently defended their right to boycott when I said: “I fully support the right of people to boycott whoever they want for whatever reason they want—political, religious, cultural, aesthetic, their reason doesn’t matter, but their freedom to make that choice does.”

Ah, that pesky word freedom again! To the radical right, it’s something they alone get to define and in such a way that it applies only to themselves, exclusively. The graphic at the top of this post is from the Facebook Page of “Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian” (a long-running parody of far-right “Christian” fanatics in the USA). It humorously points out the harsh reality of the far-right’s position on boycotts, something I mentioned last week, and highlighted when I quoted Joe.My.God.

The hypocrisy of the radical right is breathtaking: They accuse LGBT people of “fascism” when so many of their tactics and goals clearly really are fascist-like: They dehumanise LGBT people by deliberately spreading lies and disinformation about us, they want to criminalise us (and not just in the usual way: over the years some of them have even talked about putting us in concentration camps, too). Even so, I don’t actually call our opponents “fascists” because doing so would contribute nothing to the debate.

Our side merely wants the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that our adversaries demand for themselves. The difference is, we’re not demanding that our adversaries surrender theirs, no matter what paranoid delusions they may preach in their propaganda. Our side is working to make society free and open for all citizens to live their lives equally—including LGBT people and radical right “Christians”. When we say all people are equal, we really mean it—unlike our adversaries.

So, if radical right “Christians” want to call me a “fascist” because I stand up for freedom, liberty and equality for all people, then so be it. But that’s MISTER fascist to them! I’m making fun of them, of course, but it gets at an essential truth: Our political discourse is debased when people loosely throw around incorrectly used words as a way to demean, dehumanise and disrespect opponents.

It’s extremely unlikely that the radical right anti-gay industry will ever become friends with LGBT people, but being adversaries doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. They should grow up and stop using “fascist” when they so clearly don’t understand what it means. See, I prefer to think that’s the case, and not that they’re misusing it on purpose, because that would make them evil and malevolent. I really don’t want to use strong words casually—unlike our friends on the radical right.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Buying politicians made easy

The video above is a parody ad, making fun of the recent US Supreme Court's ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, which further hands power to oligarchs and plutocrats. It makes a good point.

When the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are people, they also declared the corporation “people” are more equal than real people, because they could engage in unlimited spending in election campaigns. While super rich individuals could technically do this, too, they were prevented from donating to as many politicians as they wanted to. McCutcheon changed that by allowing individuals to donate to as many political candidates and parties as they want, up to the maximum for each one.

So, a mega rich person can now donate the maximum amount allowed by law to all Congressional candidates of a certain political party, for example. If they also have a corporation that spends unlimited amounts in campaigns, it means that the super-rich have unprecedented opportunities to influence the outcome of elections, and in ways that ordinary people could never hope to match.

Taken together, Citizens United and McCutcheon mark an unprecented shift in power in the US, away form ordinary citizens and toward the oligarchs and plutocrats. They also create the near certainty of corruption as the the oligarchs and plutocrats and plutocrats effectively “buy” members of Congress to enact legislation favourable to them.

Many people have contempt for the US Congress because of the influence that Big Money and Big Corporations already have; I’m saying it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

The solution, ultimately, is to amend the US Constitution to overturn both Citizens United and McCutcheon. But how likely is that to happen with the deck stacked so strongly in favour of the very folks that such a constitutional amendment would seek to rein in? Is it even be possible to amend the Constitution with so much money and power opposed to that happening? Anything’s possible, but I think it’ll be a long, difficult and entirely uphill struggle, if it happens at all.

So, in the meantime, we can mock the oligarchs and plutocrats and the inevitable corruption that’s coming. It’s not enough, of course; I just hope that it’s not the only reaction to the decline of American democracy that can happen.

The group behind this video, Represent.US, has another video (link goes to YouTube) that explains the McCutcheon ruling in detail.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Looking back out the Windows

This week, Microsoft ended support for its Windows XP operating system. As a kind of a parting gift, they released this video on the story behind their “Bliss” default desktop photo. I think it’s interesting.

Like a lot of people, I always assumed the photo was fake—or, at least, a real photo Photoshopped to make a fake reality. Turns out, I was wrong: It’s a real photo, and not Photoshopped. Instead, it’s by professional photographer, Charles O'Rear. This is yet another example of why we should always challenge our assumptions.

I think that this also shows that professional photographers can take amazing photographs, and those who learned their art in the pre-digital era (and the “Bliss” photo was taken in 1996) maybe have something special that digital-only photographers, well, do differently (I don’t want to seem to cast aspersions on digital, since everything I do is digital!). Old-school photographers could create their artworks without the need for digital effects. Us amateurs, of course, would usually be lost without digital tools and effects. Which is why you’ll never see any of MY photos become ubiquitous.

Actually, this photo is sort of the definition of ubiquitous. Charles O’Rear said in the video, “Anybody now, from age 15 on, for the rest of their life, will remember this photograph.” He said people will go through their lives, then one day, decades from now, they’ll see the photo and they won’t remember where they saw it, but they’ll remember it. I think he’s right.

I think it’s always good to know the story behind the ubiquitous things in our lives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Olive store-bought, thanks

It’s olive harvest time at our house! I’m not serious, but it looks like maybe I should be soon.

The photo above is of a few olives I picked up off our deck this afternoon. I’ve thoughtfully provided points of reference, a NZ ten cent piece and a measuring tape (both metric and Imperial!). They’re clearly not huge olives—but they’re getting bigger over time.

When I wrote about our “olive harvest” last year, it was mocking. Even then, though, I admitted that our two trees “may have produced more and I just never saw them”. Maybe that was foreshadowing.

This year, the trees have produced a lot of olives that I just swept away. The photo shows a portion of what I’ve found most mornings. It’s getting to the point where I’m thinking that maybe I should actually read up on all this, find out how to harvest olives and what to do once I have. Maybe.

On the other hand, I’m no gardener, let alone farmer, and even the idea of trying to manage olive production may be a bit beyond my capabilities. And yet, a challenges IS interesting…

For now, I’ll continue to buy my olives from the store. But in the years ahead, who knows? Seems like next year I’ll have to do something with all the olives—beyond merely blogging about them, that is.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Fancy new airplane

Air New Zealand has unveiled their Boeing 787-9, and it’s a beautiful plane. I suppose I would say that, of course, for a lot of reasons.

More than a decade ago, Boeing recruited airline passengers to be part of their "World Design Team" for their new plane, and I signed up. I don't know how much stock they put on what we said, but it at least meant that we were kept up to date with the development of the plane that became the Dreamliner (in 2005, we were asked to vote for our favourite name; I didn't pick "Dreamliner", though I can't remember what I DID pick—it was a long time ago!). I also advocated for more legroom.

Air New Zealand’s plane will be the first 787-9 to enter service (they’ll take delivery in July and it will begin service in October). The plane has greater range and capacity than the earlier 787 models to enter service.

The black paint was something of a novelty when it was first introduced, with critics saying that heat would be a problem. But Air New Zealand found that it turned out to be a non-issue, which is good: I think it makes the plane look stunning. I should note that the other nine 787-9s will be painted white with a black tail.

The only black plane I can ever remember seeing before Air New Zealand started painting their planes black was many, many years ago, when I lived in Chicago. A few times when I flew from O’Hare I saw a plane that I presume was Hugh Heffner’s—painted black with the Playboy bunny on the tail.

So, I’ve been “part” of the process that led to the Dreamliner, and Air New Zealand is my favourite airline, and that may make it may seem obvious that I’d like Air New Zealand’s new plane. But it’s the look of the plane that appeals to me, not its heritage or owners. Sometimes, looks do matter—even 13,000 metres in the sky.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Back to Standard Time

Last night New Zealand went back to Standard Time (NZST). I never paid much attention to these time changes until I moved to New Zealand. Time zones can matter a lot to expats.

The video above is and older one from one of may favourite YouTube explainers, ‪CGP Grey. The video explains Saving Saving Time and some of the many problems with it. It think it’s interesting.

I’ve never been too bothered by the clock changes, unlike so many other people I know. The autumn one doesn't bother me, maybe, because of the “extra hour” of sleep. Pushing the clock forward, like in Spring, is supposed to be relatively easy for people—well, some people, anyway.

The main problem I have with the clock changes is that it makes it harder to work out what time it is in another part of the world, like meeting up on Skype with a friend or family member in the USA, for example. I'd never be able to keep track of time in different parts of the world if I didn't have software to do it for me.

This year could have been harder than usual: I was up late working several nights the past week, but last night I went to bed at a relatively early 11pm and got my eight hours—more, actually, because of the time change. So, I felt remarkably rested this morning.

We also had some family visiting us this weekend, an impromptu thing. That was really nice. And I finished my work, which is even better. It was a very good weekend, indeed.

I wonder how I’ll feel tomorrow…

Friday, April 04, 2014

Jake is 7

Today is our puppy Jake’s Seventh Birthday. The photo above is of him this afternoon in a typical pose, sitting in my chair and looking outside. I think he may have been a bit sick of the fuss by the time I took the photos.

This year is a bit different than previous birthdays, because it’s the first one without his blood brother Doyle, who died last year. We’d always meant to arrange a “play date” for the boys, but never got around to it. A sister came for Doyle, then one for Jake (and then another…), and, well, as is the way with humans, time just slipped away. We’ll always regret that the boys were never re-united.

We humans always live our lives as if we’re immortal, even though we know we aren’t. Furbabies have much shorter lives, more often than not, than we do, so we especially need to savour every day we have with them.

I can honestly say that I do that. There’s not a single day that goes by that they don't get my complete attention, even if only to watch them sleep. I talk to them all day long, and sometimes I even sing to them—something that, with their superior hearing, I’m sure they really wish I wouldn’t do. Or, maybe that’s just me.

The point is, we have interactions every day, and they never for a moment have to feel anything but loved, cared for and wanted. Doyle had that, too, and his passing reinforced my determination to be IN every day we have with our furbabies.

I was thinking today about how Jake is unlike any other dog I’ve shared my life with: He’s not a one-person dog, but treats Nigel and me the same. Well, not exactly the same: When I leave the house he goes spare, and, according to Nigel, he sits by the window and watches until I return. He doesn’t do that with Nigel, because I’m here. At night, Jake will lie next to Nigel and he can cuddle Jake for hours; me, I’m lucky if Jake will let me cuddle him for 30 seconds (not really an exaggeration, either). He’ll ask me to get him his breakfast and dinner, and he’ll ask Nigel for his evening treat. If he’s hurt or frightened, he’ll usually run to Nigel first. He likes to jump up in my lap when I’m at my desk, but he never does that with Nigel. All of which is part of his charm as well as his individuality.

Meanwhile, Jake’s adopted sister Sunny’s birthday is in three months, and his other adopted sister Bella’s birthday is three months after that. They're all worth celebrating, whether they take any notice or not.

The photo below is of Jake enduring ever more photos. I had to mark his special day, after all.

Happy Birthday, Jake!

Related posts:
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival

Awesome response

Honey Maid launched an ad campaign called “This Is Wholesome”. One commercial in the series included two gay dads. Wingnuts’ heads exploded—and now Honey Maid has responded with the video above.

The original commercial (below) was pretty good as a positive, feel-good ad, treating gay families as another form of family, so I could easily guess what Nabisco, the maker of Honey Maid, would be in for. The radical right didn’t disappoint me: They demanded that their fellow bigots bombard Nabisco with messages, and the bigots obliged. But in the video response from Honey Maid, they say the supportive and positive messages they received outnumbered the bad ones ten times over. THAT is awesome.

I’ve said repeatedly that love always defeats hate, but sometimes it takes a long time to do so. In this case, at least, we’ve seen it happen much faster. Which is why the response above appeals to me so much: Symbolically turning hate into love.

The fact that some people still become enraged at depictions of gay families shows how far we still have to go. I bet they also got hate mail because of their interracial couple, too, though I suspect not nearly as many as about the current obsession of the far right, LGBT people. This may be the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean that hatred and bigotry have gone away—YET. The positive outcome this time helps rekindle my fires of hope for a while longer.

The ad that started all this:

New Zealand readers can buy Honey Maid Graham Crackers from Martha’s Backyard in Auckland.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

New day, new poll

We’re seeing a lot of opinion polling lately, today’s being a Roy Morgan poll, which showed Labour and the Greens together taking the lead from National. Contrary to popular belief, these polls give us a lot of information—but this far out from an election, they have to be viewed with some caution.

The Roy Morgan Poll found that while the Greens were down to 13%, Labour’s rise to 32% means that together they’re sitting on 45%, ahead of National’s 43%, which was a 2.5% drop for National. As pollster Gary Morgan put it, “It appears the scandal around Justice Minister Judith Collins is continuing to dent support for National.”

Support for the minor parties is up in most cases, and if today’s polls were the election result, one or more minor parties would determine who forms government.

Working out what all of this means for the make-up of the new Parliament—and so, who forms Government—is tricky. Most of the major news organisations make a lot of assumptions about parties winning electorate seats, but what matters is the percentage of the Party Vote each party gets, because that’s what determines the make-up of Parliament.

So, taking these poll results, and assuming the parties win the same number of electorate seats they currently hold (about which, more in a minute), I used elections.org.nz’s MMP Seat Allocation Calculator to come up with this rough break down: It would be a 121 seat Parliament, with Labour having 39 seats and the Greens 16, for a total of 55 (a minimum of 61 seats would be needed to form government in this scenario), though they’d probably also have the support of the Mana Party (1 MP), for a total of 56.

The National Party would have 53 seats and its current coalition partners, the Act Party and United Future, would have one each, for a total of 55. If the Maori Party won all three seats it currently holds, they would get 3 MPs (and cause an overhang). If the Maori Party continued in coalition with National, that block would have 58 seats—not enough to form government, either.

So, in this scenario, Winston Peters’ New Zealand First Party and its 7 seats would determine who formed Government—either Labour or National.

We can play with different scenarios all we want, and what I’ve shown is only one possible scenario. Electorate seats change all the time, and it’s likely that seats will change between the major parties, and there also could be changes with minor parties. Does that affect anything?

Technically, no, in the sense that the Party Vote determines the make-up of Parliament. However, it could determine if there’s an overhang. For example, let’s assume that Labour wins two of the Maori Party’s 3 seats. That would eliminate the overhang, but also reduce the National-led block by 1 seat and increase the Labour/Greens-led block by one, making it a little easier for Labour to form government.

However, if John Key does a deal with the Colin Craig Conservative Party, gifting Colin one of National’s seats (the same sort of seal National does with Act), it would do National no good: They would have the same number of seats they had without Colin but with the Maori Party—and still not have enough to form Government. Even if the Maori Party managed to hold all three of the seats it now holds, too, Key would still only have 59 seats in a Parliament with an overhang—again, unable to form government without a deal with Winston.

There’s also significant resistance (even among National voters) to Key doing a deal with Colin, and it’s entirely possible that if he did one, it would drive swing voters to Labour—maybe even enough for them to comfortably form government.

These poll results will not be the final result of the election, we can be certain of that. No poll can predict what will happen on election day several months from now, of course, so these numbers will need constant review.

All polls are merely snapshots of what likely voters thought during the time the poll was taken. Different things in the news can change the results of future polls either way. That necessary caution in mind, I think all of this is fascinating—and fun.

And, I very much like this snapshot.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Worth Quoting: Joe Jervis

Joe Jervis
I read the blog of Joe Jervis, Joe.My.God., every day. I often link to Joe’s posts, or use them as a starting point for my own posts. Today he said something that I must quote in full.

Maggie Gallagher, the former head of the anti-gay group I always call the National Organization for Man/Lady Only Marriage, wrote an opinion piece about the Mozilla boycott and, as Joe observed, it showed her suffering from amnesia. Joe wrote:
Amnesiac Maggie doesn't seem to remember that one week ago today dozens of leading evangelicals threatened the livelihood of World Vision's CEO when he (briefly) agreed to hire legally married gay people. Also wiped from Maggie's mental hard drive are memories of the Christian calls to boycott Chick-Fil-A that erupted earlier this month when CEO Dan Cathy announced that he was shutting up forever about gay marriage. Gone too, apparently, are any recollections from just a couple of weeks ago when pretty much every leading anti-gay crackpot called for a boycott of Guinness beer. Those frantic emails from One Million Moms with their literally weekly demands to boycott everything from snack products to salad dressing? Deleted. Didn't happen. Perhaps most interesting is that Maggie's convenient amnesia has also fogged over the fact that the very organization she once headed is still calling for boycotts of Starbucks and General Mills.
REMINDER: When anti-gay and Christian groups call for nationwide boycotts, that is a righteous use of the free market in order to preserve morality, marriage, family, and the American way. But when LGBT groups or citizens use or threaten the use of a boycott, THAT is homofascist intimidation, intolerance, bullying, a stifling of religious liberty, and an attempt to deny the freedom of speech. And don't you forget it. [emphasis and links were in the original]
Well, said—I couldn’t possibly agree more. Joe states more directly what I was getting at in my own post on the Mozilla boycott.

Note: I deleted from the quoted material links to the Starbucks and General Mills boycott pages because they go to an anti-gay site, but they are on the original post on JMG.