Monday, June 30, 2014

Good parents

For my final post for LGBT Pride Month (sadly neglected this year), a video that brought tears to my eyes. It's from parents who GET it: None of us are what our parents hope for or imagine: We are who we are. Good parents just make that easier.

Most of us don’t have the challenge of being trans* or gay or bisexual. Most kids grow up to be heterosexual and most of them go on to be parents themselves. But what of the rest of us?

LGBT history has been, until recently, the story of oppression, bigotry and repression. But now, finally, we see some faint glimpses of what true equality will look like. Now we also see parents willing to embrace the beauty of what their child IS, not what they hope that child will be—or reflect.

I'm well aware that this video will drive fundamentalist religionists fully round the bend. That’s their issue, their problem. Ryland is what he is, and all the ideology or politics in the world won't change that. His parents see that, and it’s worth noting (as so many have before me).

The point here is simple: We don’t own our children, we don’t even get much of a say in who they are. But we get a HUGE say in how they will feel because of us: Will they feel safe, protected and nurtured, or will they fell condemned, judged and disparaged? That choice is ours as adults, whether we’re parents, extended family, caregivers or of any other connection.

Because, at the end of the day, our job is never to judge or to dictate, but to make possible. Our sole duty to the next generations is to make them feel free to be who they are, what they are, and to achieve whatever they’re capable of achieving.

Ultimately, that’s the message of LGBT Pride Month: Be who you are, fiercely, proudly, without excuses or apology. That’s everyone’s birthright.

Celebrate diversity. Celebrate uniqueness. Celebrate the inalienable right of every person to be who they truly are. The parents in the video get that. And so must we all.

Like a girl

This is an ad—no mistaking that. Sure, it’s doesn’t try and sell a product, but the idea it sells is meant to help promote the product. I don't think that matters—except in a good way.

This video is about how the phrase “like a girl” has such a negative impact on girls themselves, encouraging them to internalise the very idea of girl-like as a negative. I think the video does it very well—but I think it’s only half the story.

When I was a boy, the worst thing a boy could be called was something feminising: “You throw like a girl” or “You run like a girl” or even “You’re just like a girl!” To be “accused” of being “like a girl” was absolutely the worst thing imaginable when I was a kid. In those kinder, gentler (so called) days, no one used words like “fag” or “homo”, and yet we knew that was the implicit meaning.

Years later, anti-gay slurs would pop up in my life, but it turned out it was in the exact same context: Emasculation. Anti-gay slurs were, in other words, part of the tool-kit of bullying and belittlement to which sexism also belonged.

Except for me: I was never bullied or belittled in this way and, to the small extent I ever was, it was because my dad was a preacher—ironically, the very same thing that, I’m convinced, protected me from anti-gay bullying.

To be totally honest, I have no idea why particular slings and arrows were directed my way but others weren’t. In my mind’s eye, I was pretty damn good at passing for straight, but it’s not like I’d actually know. Regardless, I was terrified that I might be identified as gay, and that began even earlier, even before I really know what it meant to be gay, when I was desperate to NOT have other boys say I did anything “like a girl.”

So, I think that anything that makes people stop saying “like a girl” as if it’s a bad thing is good. It’ll help countless girls to live up to their full potential. But the unspoken truth here is that it’ll help countless boys, too.

Allowing all children—girls and boys alike—to reach their full potential, to allow them to grow up without self-loathing or fear of how they might be perceived by others—these are very worthy goals. And if it takes a commercial to help achieve that goal, I’m absolutely okay with that.

Nowadays, if someone wants to say to me that I do something “like a girl”, I’ll take that as a badge of honour. I’ve had some pretty awesome women in my life, after all, and to be compared to them would be an honour, not a curse. I just want that to be true for all kids, girls and boys alike.

Different tactics

This video is another in a series of BuzzFeed videos that try and make the same point. I think it works very well, but I also think that the reactions to these videos are interesting.

This video, “If Black People Said The Stuff White People Say” is just like the video I posted a couple weeks ago, “If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say”. Both videos explore “the silly things white people say” to non-whites. “It’s a common enough tactic: Turn language around to highlight how ridiculous it really is. When it works—and I think this one does—it can be quite effective.”

So there’s nothing particularly new about this video, and there’s probably no end to similarly-themed videos that could be made. Maybe that’s as it should be, because the one thing that’s struck me the most was the howls of outrage coming from—well, let’s be honest here—people like me: White, middle class males.

The easiest and surest way to get a white person to switch into ardent defensive mode is to challenge his (or her) privilege: They not only refuse to acknowledge any validity in what you say, they attack YOU for being racist, sexist, etc. This is why, unlike my more warrior-like ideological brothers and sisters (well, maybe cousins…) on the Left, I almost never even use the word privilege, let alone talk about it in the context of what someone in the majority is doing wrong. It’s tactics, really: I know they’ll shut down if I use the word or argument, so I choose other, less threatening routes.

And that, I think, is the strength of videos like these. Sure, there will be some who will swing into full-on defensive mode no matter what, but most people, probably disarmed by the humour, may at least get a glimmer of recognition of how their behaviour toward people who are different from them can be, well, improved, we’ll say.

Discussions of privilege and how best to combat it have their place—absolutely they do—but if the goal is to effect change, then other, less confrontational, approaches are likely to be more effective. Which is why videos like this can help.

Ultimately, though, nothing can replace one-on-one interaction as a means of education and enlightenment, because people find it very hard to be prejudiced against people they know and like. Sure, sometimes when a person of privilege says really stupid things it may be tempting to knock them upside the head, but that isn’t terribly helpful. Maybe show them a video instead.

It couldn’t hurt.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Getting immigration right

The NZ Labour Party has already announced a lot of great policies, and will right up to the election. Labour’s immigration policy is one of those, one that’s quite close to my heart, of course, so I’m glad it’s so good.

Labour says of immigration (a copy of the full policy is available at the link):
“New Zealand is a country built on immigration. Labour is committed to immigration that not only meets economic priorities but which contributes to social objectives and to New Zealand’s vibrant multicultural society. Boosting regional development and lifting New Zealand’s economic performance toward a high-skilled high-income economy are key components of Labour’s immigration policy.”
The current government’s immigration policies tend to favour wealthy investors at one end, and short-term, cheap labour at the other. While the wealthy can bring investment capital into New Zealand, the low-skilled workers, many of whom are paid badly by New Zealand standards, drive down wages paid to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. Added to this, many of these temporary workers are kept on temporary permits for a very long time, which prevents them from making long-term plans or putting down roots.

I can say based on my own experience how temporary everything feels when living here with a succession of temporary, short-term permits, as I was for nearly four years. There’s also the fear that a change in policy can take everything away, forcing one to leave New Zealand. Temporary residence doesn’t exactly encourage settling down or happiness.

So, Labour says that in government it will “ensure that the immigration system promotes a high-skilled high-wage economy rather than exploiting cheap labour that undercuts wages and undervalues training,” and they will “revitalise the settlement programme and seek to reduce the numbers of migrants on temporary visas for long periods.” This is great stuff.

Labour has already committed to raising the minimum wage within it’s first 100 days in Government, at will do so again in 2015. Over time, Labour will move to promoting a living wage. This, combined with a reorientation of immigration policy, will ensure rising standards of living for all New Zealanders, and it will also end the exploitation of immigrant workers. This is a win-win for all New Zealand workers, whether they were born here, live here permanently, or are on sponsored work visas, like mine was.

Before I could get my first temporary permit and visa, Immigration had to be satisfied that no one in New Zealand could do the job I was being sponsored to do. That meant I was bringing skills into New Zealand, not taking a job from a Kiwi. Labour’s policies will emphasise this again for new migrants.

Labour will also “use the points system and other tools to manage the number of immigrants entering the country on work visas to even out the peaks and troughs in the immigration cycle.” This has been a constant problem, affecting things throughout the economy, including housing prices. It’s worth trying to smooth this out a bit. But Labour also plans to “reward skilled immigrants who live in the regions, where their skills can unlock growth and job opportunities for the community,” which will benefit places outside of the main towns and cities. Taken together, these two commitments are about managing immigration so it benefits New Zealand and the nation’s economy as a whole, which is good.

Labour has also committed to making it easier for Pacific families to be reunited, given New Zealand’s unique relationship with Pacific island nations. This, combined with Labour’s commitment to raising the number of refugees that NZ accepts—the first time the number will have been raised since the 1980s—means that the immigration policies of the new Labour-led government will ensure that NZ meets its international obligations.

As an immigrant, I feel government policies in this area a little more keenly and personally than policies in other areas. The immigration policies of the new Labour-led Government will be better than the ones in place when I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, and I really like that.

To get better and fairer immigration policies—and a better and fairer New Zealand—we first have to vote to change the government. On September 20, I’ll be doing exactly that when I cast my Party and Electorate Votes for Labour. These policies are part of the reason why I’ll be doing that.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Puppy love

It’s been a busy time lately, and a casualty of that has been blogging. Sometimes, things have got give, even things that are important to me, so that other things can happen.

So, a photo of our puppies. It’s been too long, actually: I haven’t posted a photo of the two of them together since March. At the start of that month, I posted another photo and commented, “They often sleep closely like this…”. The photo above, taken this evening, is further evidence of that; they couldn’t get any closer.

I don’t take, let alone post, nearly enough photos of the furbabies. However, I do take far more than I post. That’s good, at least.

Speaking of which, at right is a photo of Bella I prepared earlier (I took it early this month and never posted it). It turns out, I haven’t posted a photo of her since December of last year. Whoops.

At any rate, here they are. For now, that’s good enough, and all I really can do.

Monday, June 23, 2014

OK Go: The Writing's On the Wall

I saw this video a few days ago when it was first released, but didn’t get around to sharing it. But tonight my Twitter pal @_surelymermaid said, “OK Go's new single sounds just like New Order released it in 1988,” and she’s right.

The fact is, I loved New Order, and I love this video. There may be a coincidence in that. I’ve loved OK Go's videos for different reasons (even though I often like their songs): The elaborate choreography and visuals make their videos far more interesting than most music videos. This 3-D journey through optical illusions and making life lift through painting is fascinating.

At any rate, I like this song and this video. Considering how much other stuff I have going on right now, that’s a good enough reason to post this. Considering how not pleasant some of that stuff has been, this video is necessary.

And, anyway, I just like it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Internet Wading – June

This month's Internet Wading is an especially mixed bag. Actually, they usually are, I suppose.

In 2013, 61.5% of web traffic wasn’t human, and that number is up 21% in just one year. About 31% of web traffic is from “good bots” (search engines, for example), but 31% of it is from malicious bots.

We see a LOT of images on the Internet, some are memes promoting some cause or other, but most sites have images of one sort or another. There is a resource for that: A Complete Guide to Visual Content: The Science, Tools and Strategy of Creating Killer Images.

Roger Green kindly mentioned my series on New Zealand Music Month. He is, of course, the person I stole borrowed the idea for these posts from.

The sort of thing I like to see: "Calgary Olympian finds three words liberating: ‘I am gay’."

There was a claim that  Humans 'are sexist' about hurricanes. The claim was that female-named hurricaines are more deadly than those with male names. Except, it's not true: "Why Have Female Hurricanes Killed More People Than Male Ones?"

Most Christians tend to ignore the awkward parts of the Bible: 11 Kinds of Bible Verses Christians Love to Ignore. And then there's the other side: Bible Verses That Atheists Love: We asked prominent atheists what parts of the Bible they find inspiring and beautiful.

Huge Underground "Ocean" Discovered Towards Earth's Core: “A new study led by geophysicist Steve Jacobsen of Northwestern University and seismologist Brandon Schmandt from the University of New Mexico has yielded evidence that vast oceans worth of water are tied up within Earth’s mantle.”

And that's it for this month.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Distraction politics

This past week was enough to make politics disgusting to anyone—including me. I’ve seen my fair share of nonsense and irrelevance in politics, and this week was nothing different. And, I hated it.

I’ve been voting for 37 years, volunteering in campaigns for a bit longer, and interested for as long as I can remember, but this week made me HATE politics. Despite the media and pundit hysteria, there was NOTHING in the attacks on Labour Leader David Cunliffe that was worthy of our attention—unless you’re John Key and the National Party, who need to have Labour torn down, of course.

There have been many conspiracy theories about this situation, and most of them I think are pretty stupid (and paranoid, even), though that doesn’t mean they're utterly baseless. Regardless, I’ve done my best to fight for what’s right, including as a two-day Twitter Warrior fighting against the bullshit.

The gist of the story—and there are many versions—is that a few days ago, Labour Leader David Cunliffe was asked, “Do you recall ever meeting [Donghua] Liu?” He answered, “I don't recall ever meeting him, no.” Then he was asked, “Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?” and he answered, “No, I did not.” This is also important. He was then asked, “Did you advocate on his behalf at all?” and he answered, “No.”

The next day, the New Zealand Herald published a letter signed by David Cunliffe in which he asked if Immigration could provide an estimated time in which Mr. Liu could expect a decision on his residency application—a letter written ELEVEN YEARS AGO.

I don’t know anyone—me especially—who could recall letters written more than a decade ago. However, it’s likely that Cunliffe didn’t even write the letter, but followed on from the work of his staff. It’s what electorate MPs do. Even so, there is NOTHING in the letter that’s even remotely untoward or unusual.

So, what’s the point of reporting a bland, non-issue? Well, it fits National Party talking points about how Cunliffe is “tricky” and “untrustworthy”. As if. This is nothing more than National Party propaganda.

Nowhere in the letter does Cunliffe ask for special treatment or indicate ANY support for the application. Instead, it merely asks for a timeline, while acknowledging how busy they were. To suggest that this was a veiled “hurry up” to Immigration insults and demeans the hardworking people in that department who every day work according to the law and departmental policy: They don’t take orders from MPs, no matter what the fantasies of pundits pretend.

One of the main allegations in this saga is that the New Zealand Herald was tipped off by the Prime Minister or his minions. Here’s what we know for sure, based on Tweets I exchanged with the Herald’s reporter, Jared Savage: Back in early May, the Herald filed and Official Information Act request for information about Mr. Liu’s citizenship application. This was denied on privacy grounds on June 16. The Herald reporter immediately filed another request for all correspondence regarding Mr. Liu’s application before 2005, and this resulted in the letters they published. All of this is fact.

What we don’t know: Did anyone tell Savage where (or when) to look? I specifically asked him directly: “were you given some sort of tip about when to look for correspondence pre-2005?” He didn’t answer that. However, there are two key points here: First, if he was tipped off, he’s not bloody likely to tell me (source confidentiality), and second, he could have misread the question, even though that seems highly unlikely for a reporter with his obvious skills.

We know that John Key, the current prime minister, knew about the letter for “weeks”. This gets murkier: Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse at first declared that he never told Key’s office about the letter, then he suddenly changed his story and claimed he told Key on May 9—the day after the Herald filed their OIA request. Can anyone else see why this “coincidence” seems a wee bit, well, convenient?

I don’t think that the Herald was merely publishing what John Key told them to—I think that idea’s just plain silly. However, the preponderance of evidence is that Key’s office could have told the Herald where to look, and they did. Jared Savage’s avoiding the question of a tip isn’t proof. But neither is it in any way refutation of the presumption that he was tipped off by John Key or his cronies.

However, even though I suspect National was behind this with the full cooperation of the Herald, that doesn’t absolve Labour or Cunliffe. Mr. Liu has been a story for weeks, and any of Cunliffe’s aides who were too bloody useless to search out ANYTHING to do with Mr. Liu ought to be sacked at once. I don’t give a shit how long they’ve been with Cunliffe, their act of omission betrayed him and Labour and they must go—they have no place in anything to do with Labour because they failed the most important test. Good bye and good riddance.

Second, the Labour Party head office has been useless. Do they even have communications people? From the evidence I’ve seen, I’d guess they don’t, because there was NO counter narrative from the party, no debunking, no NOTHING. Party activists were provided absolutely no guidance from head office. If there’s a WORSE way to handle PR in a situation like this, I haven't yet seen it.

The story so far has all been about National Party talking points, and they’ve entirely framed the story and led it. An unstable and divided left suits National’s purpose because it will suppress the centre-left vote, something that lefty pundits have been all too eager to help—one must logically assume that they secretly want National to win.

This particular story is as stupid as it is over. The various “rumours” that John Key and his lackeys keep muttering about are nothing more than National Party smears. Let them provide proof for what they claim—they’ve never, ever been able to do that so far! Everything they’ve said has been based on nothing more than National Party lies and smears. New Zealand deserves better.

So, while John Key and the National Party lie and smear, Labour will make sure that every New Zealander has the opportunity for a secure, well-paid job, that every Kiwi has a warm dry home and has home-ownership in reach, and that our kids are given all of the opportunities they need to thrive and prosper.

At the end of the day, Labour is fighting for the REAL New Zealand.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

'Smalltown Boy' at 30

Back in the summer of 1984, I popped in to my favourite Chicago record store on Clark Street, not far south of Diversey. I saw a 12-inch single with a big pink triangle on the cover. It was “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat. Later, I saw the video. For me, it was revolutionary.

To set the scene, I need to go back to 1981, when I was in university. I took part in what was then called the “Gay Peoples Union”, and helped run workshops on coming out (even though I wasn’t long out myself) as well as taking some baby steps at political organising. I had friends who gave me gay music to listen to, gay authors to read—I was lucky. I got a crash course in “Gay 101” in only a few weeks time. I needed it. Even so, there wasn’t all that much contemporary stuff or, at least, nothing on the radio.

The time between when I left university in early 1982 and my finding that record in 1984 is somewhat involved, but, at its most basic, it was a time of intense discovery. I was still learning about all those who had gone before, but by then I was an LGBT activist trying to make the world a better, less hostile place for my people.

So, there I was in that record store, and I took a punt: I was glad I did. While I was never a victim of anti-gay violence, and I’d only once experienced the sting of anti-gay discrimination, as I mentioned a few years ago, I nevertheless fully identified with the song as I really never had before.

The song—and the video—appealed to me because it was so novel: I’d never seen MY life and MY reality displayed in popular culture and I felt giddy from the unexpected reflection of a part of my life. It was a kind of validation that I didn’t even know I was missing.

The song reached only Number 48 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but Number One on its dance chart (and I heard it a LOT in the clubs back then). It reached Number 5 in New Zealand, Number 8 in Australia, Number 9 in Canada and Number 3 in their native United Kingdom. So, over all, pretty successful.

Given the profoundly personal connection to my life, I might be expected to resist any re-imagining of the song, right? Not necessarily.

The video at top is Jimmy Sommerville performing the hit in a stripped-down way. It was recorded last month, and features Nick Nasmyth on Piano. The video was directed by Freddie Hall, and the Director of Photography was Josh Adams. I quite like it.

All too often, when artists re-visit an earlier song, even a hit, they do so as some sort of modern update. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I prefer a contemporary re-imagining like this. It reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s newer version of “Clouds”, as included in the movie Love, Actually (LISTEN).

Liking a new version doesn’t mean abandoning the old, or vice versa. Just as with “Clouds”, I like the old and new versions. Just as the original version of “Smalltown Boy” (video below) spoke to me in a unique and new way 30 years ago, the new version speaks to me now. I’m older, hopefully wiser, and I’m certainly no longer surprised at seeing my life and reality reflected in pop culture. Indeed, I expect and demand it.

Jimmy Sommerville is almost exactly 2½ years younger than me (he’s about to turn 53). We’ve all moved on from then, but we can still connect with those days and re-imagine them for the reality we live in today. That’s a good thing.

I’m no longer a smalltown boy, but a significant part of me was born, in a sense, in the 1980s. This re-imagining of “Smalltown Boy” helps me connect that long ago time with the present. That’s always a good thing,

Via Joe.My.God.

A single step

Today the White House announced that the president will issue an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT employees by contractors doing business with the Federal government. While this is good news, it’s also far from perfect. Still, it’s an important step.

The executive order will protect some 28 million private sector workers—about 20% of the US workforce—from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is great news for the workers who will now be protected.

Even so, some on the Left have been wondering what took so long, since then-candidate Obama promised this back in 2008. Calls for an executive order grew louder when it became obvious that Republicans in the US House of Representatives would refuse to allow the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to even have committee hearings.

President Obama probably could have done this sooner, but it’s worth noting that doing this takes some of the pressure off of obstructionist Republicans. Even so, protecting 20% of the US workforce is better than nothing at all, even if much of the remaining 80% remains without protection and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Despite all that, the biggest threat here isn’t Republican obstructionism, nor does it really matter whether or not this could have come sooner. Instead, the biggest threat to all federal civil rights protections—laws and executive orders alike—could be the current rightwing fetish, “religious liberty”.

If the US Supreme Court rules in the Hobby Lobby case that private companies, claiming supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs” don’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employer-funded healthcare plans must fund contraception, then ALL federal laws to which the religious right objects could be undone.

This matters because if private companies are allowed to discriminate against LGBT people because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”, then there is absolutely NO reason why they shouldn’t also be able to discriminate against anyone they claim their religion commands them to reject: Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants (or just a different flavour of Protestant), Blacks, women, divorced people—whatever, it’s all instantly fair game. Testifying in front of a US House committee recently, one leading anti-gay bigot simply denied the obvious because he couldn’t come up with any logical reason why it wouldn’t be open season for discrimination based on supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”. That’s because, obviously, there ARE no reasons it couldn’t happen.

So, worst-case scenario, the executive order could become virtually unenforceable, and ENDA itself could be rendered toothless before it’s even passed, despite its “religious exemptions” that allow religious-based discrimination.

If the Supreme Court rules correctly and against Hobby Lobby, then these measures will continue to have strength and will continue to help make society more just and equal. That’s a big if at this point, though.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, we’ve already seen that the rightwing will take their “religious liberty” fetish as their new mission, ramping up their attempts to enshrine religious bigotry and the right to practice discrimination based on religious belief into state law. They will succeed in some places, but they’re likely to succeed in more states if the Supreme Court decides wrongly.

So, the upcoming executive order is important for its symbolism, and it’s potentially good news for some 20% of the American workforce. But it could end up being mere symbolism and, even if it doesn’t, it will remain only a start until ENDA (without its sweeping religious exemption) is passed and the other 80% of workers are fully covered.

This announcement is an important step in the journey to full equality for LGBT Americans. But it is only a single step. The road ahead is still very, very long.

Still, let's celebrate one more step in the right direction.

Fake it to make it

Most New Zealand voters are pretty sensible, really, which is why the extremist Colin Craig Conservative “Party” can’t make it into Parliament without help. So, the National Party is once again poised to drag an extremist party into Parliament, and Colin also seems to be up to something, um, creative.

The National Party is desperate to stay in power, so desperate that it’s now planning on doing a deal with Colin Craig to give his party one of National’s safe electorate seats in Parliament in the hope that Colin can drag in one or more people with him. National plans to do this even though polls have shown that National Party supporters don’t want anything to do with Colin and his often nutty ideas.

National needs to get in bed with Colin (so to speak…) because the other extremist party they give a seat to, the neoconservative Act Party, has become toxic after its lone Member of Parliament was found guilty of having committed electoral finance fraud. The party’s current candidate in Epsom, the electorate that National will give to Act, has said some bizarre things, but only half as bizarre and extremist as the party’s titular leader.

National’s other coalition partner, the Māori Party, could lose all its seats in Parliament as a consequence of being such a close and reliable supporter of the conservative National Party.

So, here’s National, realising that its coalition partners are in trouble, and looking around desperately for some warm bodies to take seats on their side of the House, and the only way to do that is to give seats away. If I were a National party voter in those electorates, I’d be pretty sick and tired of being treated like a chump by the National Party.

But Colin also appears to be helping his mates in National through his proposal for a Conservative Party logo to appear on the ballot (at right). The problem is that the logo confusing, misleading and illegal.

Colin’s proposed logo is confusing because it is substantially similar to the logo (at top of this post) used by the already established Combined Trade Unions’ (CTU) "Let's Get Out and Vote” campaign, which is attempting to rally voters, most of whom would vote for parties other than the Conservative Party. By using a logo that is so similar to that of the CTU campaign, the proposed Conservative Party logo could easily confuse voters, possibly enticing them to vote for the Conservative Party rather than who they intended to vote for.

Because of this potential voter confusion, the proposed logo on the ballot could mislead voters into thinking it’s related to the CTU campaign, and entice voters to vote for the Conservative Party, rather than the party the voter intended to vote for. Because the intended party of choice could have a completely different ideology and agenda from the Conservative Party, the proposed logo could mislead some voters to vote for a completely opposite ideology than they intended.

Most importantly, as Northcote Labour Candidate Richard Hills pointed out to the NZ Herald, the proposed logo, which specifically asks for a vote, is illegal because it is an offence for a party or candidate to ask for a vote on Election Day. The proposed logo is designed specifically to ask for votes, including on Election Day, and that violates the law.

A spokesperson for the Colin Craig “Party” claimed in that Herald article that the proposed logo “had received only positive feedback” and that “no one had raised any concerns about it being confusing or infringing any intellectual property rights.” Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you only talk to supporters.

I honestly don’t know if Colin and his mates are deliberately trying to confuse and mislead voters into voting for them instead of their ideological opposites; I’d like to believe instead that they simply didn’t think it through very well, because I’d rather not think that a party was deliberately trying to trick voters. Of course, if the Colin Craig “Party” didn’t mean their logo to be an electoral rort, they could always withdraw the application.

No matter what Colin and his mates think, the logo IS confusing, misleading and blatantly illegal. I made a submission to the Electoral Commission saying exactly that, along with the reasons that I outlined above, and I urged that the proposed logo be rejected. I hope it is.

We need to fix this system that rightwing parties are trying so hard to game. Labour has pledged to do that as Government. But first, we need to defeat these rightwing parties and their election rort. Let's Get Out and Vote.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Frozen Support Group

This comedy video (language probably NSFW) is from New Zealand comedy duo, Jono Pryor and Ben Boyce, who have a programme on TV3 called Jono and Ben at Ten, which airs Fridays at, well, 10. We usually watch the show when we’re home.

I think that this particular video, uploaded a few days ago, is fairly typical of New Zealand television sketch comedy. To me, New Zealand comedy generally tends to be a bit drier than US comedy, while also sometimes being a bit broader at the same time.

Whatever, I just thought it was funny. I wanted to post something a little more thought provoking today, but none of my ideas panned out, so I decided to just let it go—oops…

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Do better

I have an uneven relationship with BuzzFeed’s site, but many of their videos are awesome. The video above is an example.

“If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say” explores the silly things white people say to Asians. It’s a common enough tactic: Turn language around to highlight how ridiculous it really is. When it works—and I think this one does—it can be quite effective.

All people have prejudices—it’s part of being human. The fault, it seems to me, isn’t in having the prejudices themselves, but it not confronting them and dealing with them. This sort of video can help non-Asian people see their prejudices against Asians so they can deal with their prejudices (and stop saying stupid things).

Most of the time, however, we don’t have a useful tool like this video, so we’re on our own. It’s our responsibility to try and confront our prejudices and change our behaviours, even when either is hard to do.

Prejudice is not the same as bigotry, although all bigotry is built on prejudice. Prejudice is usually just based on ignorance, and that can be overcome with education—as the late, great poet Maya Angelou put it, “You did then what you knew how to do, And when you knew better, You did better.”

Sometimes, learning to know better can be kinda fun, too. Just like this video.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Best things

Tonight I went to the “Labour Launch and Laughs” campaign launch for the Labour Party candidate in Northcote, Richard Hills. It was a great time—good food, good people and good atmosphere. I was in my element.

I’ve been political for as long as I can remember, pretty much, and it’s always been principle-driven more than partisan, though I’m very partisan, too (obviously!). Even so, principle comes first. That’s why I’m a Labour Party member and why I back Richard Hills.

Tonight was a time to gather and celebrate, really, the official beginning of a campaign that so many of us have been working on for a long time already. Richard has a strong base of support (we can always use more volunteers!), and a great family behind him. It’s a solid base to build on.

But as I looked around the room, which included many people I knew only through seeing them around the community, people I knew through Labour, local politicians and Labour Party candidates, I remembered one of the things I love so much about this country: The immediacy of its democracy.

When I talked about my weekend at the Labour List Conference, I mentioned that I met Labour Leader David Cunliffe, and that, in US terms, it was “a bit like having a chat with Nancy Pelosi”. The thing is, in New Zealand it’s easy to interact on a personal level with politicians we see on the evening news every night. This easy connection with the leaders of our country is one of the things that I love so much about New Zealand. The level of access and even familiarity we have is simply unimaginable in the USA—and I know, because for a time I was the sort of political activist who would have that kind access, though it turned out it wasn’t durable. It quite possibly (probably?) wasn’t even real.

So tonight I was in a room with elected politicians and candidates who hope to be elected, plus a whole bunch of people who support them (including some of the most important people in my life, who were probably there for me as much as our candidate…), and I thought, politics nerd that I am, THIS is what participatory democracy is all about. Long may it thrive.

It was a great night. We have a great candidate and great party with a great message. It was the BEST night.

The photo at the top of this post is shamelessly stolen from the Facebook page of Labour Auckland North. It features the Labour candidates who attended Richard's campaign launch. I'll eventually get the names (correct spellings…) of everyone who was there and I'll amend this. Until then, Richard Hills is in the centre with the checked shirt, and next to him is Ann Hartley, who was the first Labour candidate whose campaign I ever volunteered for.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Equality Matters

The USA’s anti-gay rightwing is relentless in spinning ever more propaganda, presenting utter nonsense and outright lies. Debunking the anti-gay industry is a huge job. Fortunately, there are a lot of folks working on making things right.

The video above was posted about a month ago, and talks about the work of Equality Matters, which is a project of Media Matters for America (MMfA). I’ve posted information from both of them, and have found them to be invaluable resources.

The rightwing loves to hate Media Matters and everything associated with it. The main reason, of course, is that the group debunks the lies and disinformation of the USA’s rightwing, setting out the real story—the truth—rather than rightwing lies. Equality Matters does similar, though more focused, work. Little wonder the rightwing hates them so much.

I’ve always thought it was funny how the rightwing attacks Media Matters because, they claim, it was funded by George Soros. However, Soros never donated to MMfA until 2010, some six years after it was founded. MMfA has always been open and transparent about Soros’ support, unlike its adversaries on the right.

And, to be blunt, why the hell should I be upset about a million bucks to MMfA from Soros when the far right Koch Brothers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on rightwing and far rightwing causes/organisations? I’m sorry, but I think the rightwing are nothing but extreme hypocrites when they get all weird about Soros spending money to support his political ideology, but remain silent on the Kochs’ spending hundreds of millions to promote their interests. If it’s okay for the Kochs to spend hundreds if millions on far rightwing causes and to benefit their interests, well, a few million spent on liberal and progressive causes seems only fair—actually, it doesn’t seem at all fair, since it’s not even in the same league.

Media Matters for America and its Equality Matters work are important. We know they’re important because of how much time and energy the rightwing spends attacking them. Obviously, they’re hitting too close to home for the rightwing to bear. Good. Make the rightwing squirm.

The issue here is, as it always is, that all sides get to present their best arguments and hope to persuade people. But the rightwing doesn’t get a free pass to lie with impunity or to present misinformation, disinformation and deliberate falsehoods as if they’re true. And that’s exactly why we need groups to constantly debunk the rightwing Lie and Propaganda Machine. It’s why we need MMfA and Equality Matters.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wild night

Last night, we were hit by a very big storm. Trees were downed, houses damaged, there was flooding and a few relatively minor injuries. It could have been much worse.

I didn’t know there was going to be a storm because I’d missed the weather reports. It was raining steadily when I went to bed, but around midnight or so the storm woke me up with the sound of driving rain and incredibly strong winds. We could hear things banging, apparently caused by the wind, but we couldn’t tell where in the area the sounds were coming from.

When daylight finally came, I looked out all our windows and saw that there was no damage, though there were leaves and debris all over the place. We didn’t have any flooding or any other damage. We were lucky.

There was damage all over the area, with trees down, surface flooding, boats broken from their moorings, and power lost for 50-70,000 homes. By midday, some 40,000 were still without power.

Wind gusts peaked at 131km/h (a little over 81 mph) on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which had to be closed for a while when wind gusts made the bridge structure move. But that was after wind gusts knocked over a truck. Up in Whangaparaoa, wind gusts topped out at 145 km/h (about 90 mph), and out in the Hauraki Gulf, wind gusts hit around 170 km/h (just over 105 mph).

Because we had no damage, it wasn’t as bad for us as the weather bomb that threw a tree against our house nearly seven years ago. But it was a little worse than the one that hit us about a year later, in July 2008; then as now, we had lots of wind and rain, but no damage at our house. But unlike 2008, and more like 2007, others had sometimes major damage.

This sort of thing is becoming more common. While the 2007 storm was called a "once in 150 years event", we’ve now had really several bad storms this time of year, some worse than others, but all of them far more severe than ordinary bad storms. Because of climate change, we’ll be seeing more of these sorts of severe storms and other extreme weather (things like droughts, extreme heat and extreme cold, too). We’re starting to see what may well be the new normal.

Because of the weather bomb back in 2007, there are no longer any trees close enough to hit our house, so that’s one good thing (the damage form the 2007 storm took four months to be repaired, due to all the damage in the region). Our upgrades to our drains also means we’re less likely to be flooded, which is also good.

That’s all for now, of course. Even seven years ago I don’t think anyone was predicting that such bad storms would become common, but that’s what we seem to now have. I’m hoping that we don’t eventually get “super storms” as some suggest might happen as the atmosphere heats up, though that may be some decades away yet, if they happen at all.

In the meantime, it was a wild night, but we emerged unscathed. Right now, that’s enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

12 years a citizen

Twelve years ago today, I became a citizen of New Zealand. I’ve never talked much about that before, partly because I’m so used to being a citizen I never even think about it. But it was still a big deal.

Nigel and I took the whole day off on June 10, 2002, mostly because at the time we scheduled the time off, we thought the ceremony was in the morning; it was actually at 7pm at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna.

I actually didn’t know what to expect, which made me nervous (the unknown always does—I like to know what’s going to happen and what to expect). Also, to me it was a big deal.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day, some hours before the ceremony (slightly edited):
Many countries (or even most, for all I know) require that people becoming citizens through naturalisation renounce the citizenship of their birth. That puts the decision into razor-sharp focus, I'd say, because the person must make an either/or decision. New Zealand, thankfully, isn't one of those either/or countries; in fact, it's the opposite in that it encourages new citizens to retain their links with their homelands and cultures. In some ways, that makes the decision to become a citizen much less significant, because you're not forsaking one for another, but rather adding another.

New citizens are required to give an oath or affirmation of allegiance. In my case, it's an affirmation because it doesn't mention God (I feel it's inappropriate to make a plea to, or pledge based on, one particular religion; it has no place in a purely civic matter). Beyond that, the affirmation seemed less royalist to me. Even so, it requires the new citizen to "solemnly and sincerely affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand, her heirs and successors according to law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen."

What struck me about this was that, in essence, for the most part the new citizen is pledging what they would be required to do as a permanent resident, or even a tourist: Namely, obey the government. In New Zealand, the government is symbolised by the Queen, in whose name the government acts. The only new part is the bit about duties, but the only really new duty is possibly having to join the armed forces in defence of the country, which at my age isn't exactly likely.

For a dual national, as I will soon be, the question some ask is, to which country does one bears allegiance? The answer, again, is no different than it would be for a permanent resident or even a tourist: One must obey the country one is in, or under whose protection one is travelling. Theoretically, I could have to choose one or the other if New Zealand and the US were to go to war, but that's even less likely than my being drafted. So, there is no conflict: I will be fulfilling the same duties to the US as I always have, and I'll be fulfilling the same duties to New Zealand as I did even before I became a permanent resident. Apart from getting a second passport, nothing much will change for me.

So why is this all a big deal, then? Because it all fits my world-view: I would like this to be a planet without borders, in which people could travel to wherever opportunity or love took them. There are plenty of reasons why this cannot be the case now, but perhaps one day it can. If it does come about, I think it'll be because of… people with multiple nationalities who dare to think beyond the traditional notions of nationality. One day, perhaps, it won't be just corporations that will be "trans-nationals".

So, I'm in the waning hours of being a "mono-national" (since that must be the opposite of "dual national"). As far as I'm concerned, it's merely a demonstration of my commitment to New Zealand, and to building a better future for this country, the US, and even the world. Who was it who said, "if you want to change the world, start with yourself"? We gotta start some place.
Most of what I was thinking before the citizenship ceremony is stuff I still think today, and I’ve even talked on this blog about many of those things. What I didn't write down anywhere is something I used to say at the time, that New Zealand took a chance on me in allowing me to come to the country in 1995, and I felt it was important to make a commitment in return.

I also didn’t mention some of the practical reasons. For example, New Zealand citizens can move to Australia to live and work without needing visas, permits or residency (and Australian citizens can come here to live, too). There was a time we thought that Nigel might pursue jobs in Australia, and NZ citizenship for me would have made it much easier for me to go, too. Turned out, by the time I became a citizen, that idea was pretty much off the table. But I have travelled there on a NZ passport, which was easier than for other foreigners.

I wrote surprisingly little about the ceremony itself, but here, again from my journal, is what I did say:
There were probably over 500 people receiving their citizenship that day, each with two or more guests (we were "supposed" to only have two; I had four). It was a veritable United Nations there, too, with people from all over the place: Lots of Asians, South Africans, Russians, Middle Easterners, and others. I noticed that most of the Asians (Koreans in particular) took the oath, swearing to God, and most middle easterners took the affirmation, which doesn't mention God. I don't know that that means anything, I just thought it was interesting.

After the ceremony, Nigel ducked outside and got me first in line for my photo with the official party (though two women jumped in ahead of me).

From there, we went to McDonald's, of all places, because it was one of the few open within a short drive, and because I hadn't had any dinner (I was too nervous to eat). Then, it was home…
The photo I mentioned is at the top of this post. I’m flanked by George Wood, who at the time was the Mayor of the former North Shore City, and Diane Hale, who at the time was Deputy Mayor. The two military people at either end are Warrant Officers from the Royal New Zealand Navy, who formed the honour guard. Below is a grainy photo of me shaking the Mayor’s hand as I officially became a Kiwi.

June 10, 2002 was a special day for me. In a lot of ways, it still is.

The great week that was

Last week was a busy one, which isn’t particularly unusual. But it was filled with a lot of work, a public holiday, family and politics—pretty much everything I like to spend my time doing (apart from blogging…). It turned out to be a great week.

Last week was condensed because of the Queen’s Birthday Holiday last Monday, which was a relaxed day off. But that meant I was starting the workweek behind the game, which added a bit of pressure onto a week in which I’d rather have spent time with my mother-in-law.

The reason the pressure was acute, however, was because I didn’t have much of this past weekend to catch up on work, as I otherwise would have. So, Friday night was a very (very), very late night.

This weekend, I was a delegate to the Region 1 Labour List Conference. Local Labour Party organisations in our region (Auckland and Northland) sent delegates to the conference in order to rank the candidates from our region as we preferred to see them on the final Party List.

In a couple weeks, a special party committee (also with members supported by the party’s local level) will meet and mesh together the Lists from the various regions to come up with the final Labour Party List. In doing so, they’ll pay attention to preferences of the regions, but they will also balance that with the needs of the party and the Labour caucus in the new Parliament. In particular, they’ll look at skills, experience, and background, as well as working to ensure a diverse caucus that looks like New Zealand.

Under New Zealand’s MMP system, parties in Parliament get as many seats as their proportion of the Party votes (basically—there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s essentially how it works). So, people cast their Party Vote for the party they want to form government.

Many parties will win electorate seats, but most don’t win as many as their percentage of the Party Vote entitles them to. When that happens, candidates from the official Party List become MPs to ensure the correct percentages. So, anyone who votes for a party in the Party Vote is actually also voting for that party’s List MPs, too.

Electorate Candidates who win their seats are removed from the Party List, and the next-ranked candidate moves up a spot. Some people have argued that candidates should be List or Electorate and not both, saying that a candidate who loses a seat has been “rejected” by voters. But I think that ignores a few important things, like, for example, parties run candidates in Electorates they know they can’t win, mainly because this gives them a local presence and a way to promote the Party Vote. To say such candidates have been “rejected” is being a bit unfair when they never had a chance of winning the Electorate Seat in the first place. And, in any case, if the candidates have a high-enough ranking to enter Parliament on the Party List, it means, as I said a moment ago, that the people who voted for the party also voted for that List candidate (among all the others), so they clearly weren’t “rejected” by voters.

All parties’ lists are published well before the election so voters can evaluate them. If they’re truly unhappy with the people on that List, they can give their Party Vote to a different party. But if they want their preferred party to have the best possible List, they can get involved in that party, as I did.

The Labour Party has created what I think is good and balanced process for creating its List. Members get a say, first, through their local organisation, then regionally, and then the final list is also influenced by the local level of the Party, balanced with the needs of the party when it enters Parliament. The process ensures democratic input, but also addresses the bigger picture. I think Labour has the balance about right.

The two days were actually quite interesting. No doubt part of that is the fact that I’m a politics nerd, but I enjoyed seeing the process up close. I was able to meet MPs I hadn’t met before, starting with Labour Leader David Cunliffe (who was quite nice and personable in real life). In US terms, that’s a bit like having a chat with Nancy Pelosi. I also talked quite a bit with Phil Goff, a former Labour Leader. For me, a personal highlight was meeting Louisa Wall, who I thanked for her bill that allowed Nigel and me to get married. I also asked her if I could give her a hug (she agreed).

I spoke with most of the List candidates in our region, but time and the number of people meant I didn’t get to them all. But the ones I did speak with were all charming and personable. In fact, we had an embarrassment of riches with our candidates—it was very difficult to rank them. I don’t envy the job of those putting together the final Party List, with so many great candidates in our region alone, let alone all the fantastic people from the other regions!

Partisan politics aside, one of the things I enjoy most about politics is the opportunity to see the nuts and bolts of democracy, how all the pieces fit together. Obviously, the only party I can observe up close is the one I support, but party processes, too, are part of our democratic system and equally fascinating to me.

On the downside, I was exhausted by the time the weekend was over. In fact, the past couple days I’ve felt like I had jet lag. I guess I can’t tolerate late nights/early starts quite as well as I used to.

So, that was my busy week and weekend. They turned out to be great.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Good news from my home state

Today (June 1 in the USA), Illinois’ freedom to marry law took effect. LGBT couples have been able to marry in Cook County (home of Chicago) since February 21, following a federal judge’s ruling, and 1600 couples got licenses since then. Now, couple is all the 102 counties in Illinois will be able to get marriage licenses.

This is a great day for my native Illinois, but when I lived there, this was something I never expected to see in my lifetime. Equality feels pretty awesome. It’s also nice to know that When Nigel and I visit, we’ll still be legally married.

Even so, the work isn’t quite done. The Republican candidate for Governor, Bruce Rauner, last year expressed his opposition to the marriage equality law, Now, activists are pressuring Rauner to publicly state his current position.

The concern is that with all the Republicans at the top of the ticket in Illinois opposed to the freedom to marry, if Rauner was elected he could work behind-the-scenes to block new legislation protecting LGBT families and erode the existing laws.

As I often remind people, all our progress could be wiped away with one bad election, and we’d have to start all over again. Elections have consequences, and voting matters.

But for now, for today, it’s good to just celebrate a good thing happening.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A new season

It's June 1, a new month, the start of winter, and time for new things. But there are still a few loose ends I'd like to tie up.

Last month was a sort of experiment—and a busy one. One thing I assumed—or maybe hoped—is that I might get a bit of a "buffer" of posts to help me make my goal of an average of one post per day. With a rough start to the year, I was behind as May began, and I thought I'd catch up.

I certainly did catch up: I published 52 posts in May, which wiped out my "deficit". However, despite that, I ended up only nine posts ahead, and I'm certain to miss more than nine posts in the second half of the year, so I'm not off the hook yet.

All that aside (especially because numbers and averages don't actually matter…), May was an experiment in endurance as much as anything else. I wondered if I could endure through the month. I did—much to my surprise.

When I wound up my New Zealand Music Month series, I said that if I'd planned the series I'd have organised it better. What I really meant was that I'd have had a logical progression through the posts. I worked that out part way through, and I started thematically linking a post to the one before. If I'd planned it out, the whole thing would have been a logical progression.

Or, more likely, it wouldn't. I don't take well to planning blog posts: If I did, I'd be more like Roger Green and plan at least some posts in advance. But, I never do, so there's no reason to think planning my May posts would actually have happened.

Despite all that, and the worry that I might not finish, I did. Yes, some posts were better than others, and I included some posts that, if I'd planned, I might not have—and I also skipped over some that I wish I had included. The thing is, this is always the case, even when I have no themed month.

So, in the end, even a post-a-day themed month isn't really that different from the usual free-for-all in a typical month. That was the thing I learned that surprised me the most.

Now it's a new month, and time to get back to normal blogging. Fortunately, I have a lot of things to talk about, most of them not in any way themed.