Wednesday, February 25, 2015

G is for Gondwanaland

New Zealand—and all the landmasses on the planet—exist because the continents drift around the globe. All the land in today’s Southern Hemisphere was once part of Gondwanaland, which began to break apart some 200-180 million years ago, during the mid Mesozoic era. Good thing it did.

When Gondwanaland broke apart from the other supercontinent, Laurasia, it ended the one supercontinent, Pangaea. However, Gondwanaland was actually far older than Pangaea, having formed between about 570 and 510 million years ago, Pangaea, on the other hand, didn’t form until around 300 million years ago. Pangaea was mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, unlike today’s earth.

When Laurasia broke up, it formed the landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere. Most of Gondwanaland became the lands of the Southern Hemisphere, with Antarctica, Madagascar, India, and Australia, separating from Africa about 184 million years ago. Australia then separated from Antarctica about 80 million years ago, and sped up about 40 million years ago.

New Zealand split from Antarctica between 130 and 85 million years ago. However, the shape and topography of New Zealand today has more to do with its location on the collision point of two great tectonic plates, but that’s a topic for another day.

New Zealand’s separation from Antarctica also led to unique plant and animal life in the country. There were no predatory mammals, for example, so birds such as the kiwi, kakapo, and takahē became flightless, and others often became large, like the Moa and Haast Eagle. Similarly, New Zealand has no snakes because, like predatory mammals, they didn’t make it here before the separation.

That separation also led to the survival of unique species, such as a species of reptile called the tuatara, which is often called a “living dinosaur” because it’s been around some 200 million years. The only survivors of the species’ order live in New Zealand. They share a common ancestor with lizards and snakes, which makes them invaluable for studying how those species evolved.

And all of this is because Gondwanaland broke up.

The video above shows the tectonic history of earth, and also stretches 200 million years into the future when, some scientists believe, continents will again for a new supercontinent.

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Good and bad

Yesterday was Auckland’s Pride Parade (NZ Herald Video], the third and biggest of them. We were at a wedding and weren’t able to go, but it seemed that for the most part it was a roaring success. However, there were some things that might be viewed somewhat differently by some people.

This year, the New Zealand National Party, the right-of-centre party currently leading the NZ Government, took part in the parade for the first time (the other major party, the New Zealand Labour Party, has always participated in the parade). This is a really good thing. I’m a staunch Labour voter, having never voted for National, so when I applaud the party for taking part, I sincerely mean that it’s a great thing, and a sign that even the Right is moving forward.

However: Two of the National Party Members of Parliament who marched should not have been there: National Party List MPs Melissa Lee and Alfred Ngaro both voted against the marriage equality bill and have, so far, never said that they’ve changed their positions now that the bill is law.

Without a change of heart or an apology to LGBT New Zealanders, their taking part in a parade celebrating LGBT people—the very people they voted against!—is, at the very best, vile and rank hypocrisy. At worst, it smacks of crass political opportunism, a kind of political pink washing: Trying to cleanse their anti-gay records by appearing in a parade for the very people they voted against.

Ngaro’s presence was particularly galling because only a few months ago he was using the marriage equality bill to rile up rightwing voters to vote against Labour. Clearly he has not only NOT changed his views, but he’s actively anti-gay, which makes his presence in the parade an insult to all LGBT New Zealanders.

I say again: It’s good National finally decided to take part in the parade as Labour has done all along. National MP Nikki Kaye pushed the idea of a revived parade (years after the former HERO Parade folded), and she should be applauded. She also absolutely should have been there. But why have two anti-gay MPs? Were no pro-LGBT National MPs available? National REALLY needs to understand that sending MPs with an anti-gay voting record is as bad as not being there at all.

Add it all up, and while it was good that National finally joined the parade, Ngaro and Lee should have stayed home.

This year was also the first year that New Zealand Police were allowed to march in uniform, something that I would’ve thought was a major step forward in relations with the Police. However, trans activists didn’t see it that way, and they protested participation by the Police. One protestor was injured in what the protesters says was excessive force by the police. I hope that a full, open and honest enquiry will get to the truth.

So, this year’s parade was diverse, with a bit of controversy, some protest, a lot of heated passion—and a whole lot of glitter. Just the way I like it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The people of New Zealand

There is a truth that some New Zealanders don’t want to face: We have bigots amongst us. Mostly this is in the context of race relations, and rightly so, because there are plenty of demagogues trying to exploit racial divides for political or commercial gain. But NZ has plenty of anti-LGBT bigots, too.

An Australian bank, ANZ, changed ATMs into “GayTMs” in a couple locations in support of LGBT Pride in Auckland, and one of those ATMs was vandalised. There have been plenty of people condemning that, of course, but others have been, shall we say, less reflective.

With that in mind, I present to you the people of New Zealand—all of these are actual comments on the New Zealand Herald:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

F is for ferns

If there’s one plant that’s most associated with New Zealand, it’s the fern. It provides both national emblems and the distinctive look of much of the New Zealand countryside. There are around 200 species of ferns in New Zealand (which is a lot for a non-tropical climate), about 40% of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Probably the best known New Zealand fern in the silver fern (Cyathea dealbata), or ponga in Māori (photo above, showing the fronds’ silvery underside, which give it its name). The silver fern is the emblem worn by all our national sporting teams, and also found in logos for New Zealand companies and organisations.
NZ Coat of Arms

The fern has many official uses, too, ranging from the Coat of Arms of New Zealand (right) to war memorials, and it’s also used on graves of fallen New Zealand soldiers. It’s even been proposed as the basis for a new New Zealand flag.

Sometimes, the tightly wound new frond, called a koru, is used as a symbol, too. It forms the basis of the logo for Air New Zealand, our national airlines, among many others. I took the photo of the koru (below–click to enlarge) a few Springs ago in our back yard.

 When I was a new immigrant, one of the most startling things to me was seeing forests of tree ferns—massive things, many metres tall. To me, rasied in the Midwest of the USA, it looked as if dinosaurs might be seen wandering by. It turns out that ferns are nearly twice as old as dinosaurs, emerging during the Devonian period of the Paleozoic era, some 380-400 million years ago (dinosaurs first emerged in the middle to late Triasic period of the Mesozoic era, some 230 million years ago). This means, of course, that ferns were around at the same time the dinosaurs were, so my imagination wasn’t too wrong…

The New Zealand Department of Convervation, which has a stylised koru in its logo, provides these Fern Facts:
  • The leaves of ferns are called fronds and when they are young they are tightly coiled into a tight spiral. This shape, called a ‘koru’ in Māori, is a popular motif in many New Zealand designs.
  • Ferns can be categorised based on their growth form such as tufted, creeping, climbing, perching and tree ferns.
  • One notable New Zealand fern is bracken (rārahu), which grows in open, disturbed areas and was a staple of the early Māori diet in places too cold for the kūmara to grow. The roots were gathered in spring or early summer and left to dry before they were cooked and eaten.
  • The silver fern or ponga is a national symbol and is named for the silver underside of its fronds.
  • The mamaku is New Zealand’s tallest tree fern, growing up to 20 metres high.
  • Wheki is another type of tree fern that can be distinguished by its hairy koru and ‘skirt’ of dead, brown fronds hanging from under the crown. It often forms groves by means of spreading underground rhizomes, which give rise to several stems.
  • Most ferns reproduce sexually, but some ferns also have efficient means of vegetative reproduction, such as the underground stems of bracken and the tiny bulblets that grow on the surface of fronds of the hen-and-chicken fern.
These days, one common fern is actually a pest: The tuber ladder fern, which is invasive and crowds out native ferns. I’ve battled them at every house we’ve lived in, and sometimes it seems kind of hopeless. Fortunately, our current house has several large native tree ferns (and no ladder ferns—yet).

Ferns are a symbol of New Zealand, in much the same way that the maple leaf is a symbol of Canada. Anyone who visits New Zealand will instantly see why that is. Plus, they’re really beautful.

Photo credits:

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Furbabies Three

I haven’t wanted to post anything for a few days (actually, this month has been tough…), but then this morning I saw all three furbabies resting on the bed and I had to take a quick snapshot. That meant I had to post the photo. Of course.

And, once again, the furbabies save the day.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Learning stuff

One of the things that the Internet, and YouTube in particular, excels at is making it easy to find out stuff. Whether it’s learning how to fold a fitted sheet, or a shirt, or maybe the effects of sitting all day, or anything else we might want to know, some site or video will tell us.

The trouble, though, is similar to that with news sites: How can we tell what’s good and useful, and what’s, well, not? For me, much of it is trial and error, usually because I stumbled across something. That’s certainly the way I’ve found a lot of useful YouTube Channels, ones that teach me stuff. I’ve shared many videos from those channels over the years.

But sometimes a recommendation from someone I know—even just when they share a video—can help me find new sources for learning stuff. The video above, from WatchMojo, counts down the “Top 10 YouTube Make You Smarter Channels”. I’m subscribed to many of the channels they list, but it gives me a few more to check out (and yes, I’ve shared a WatchMojo video before, too).

The thing I find YouTube most useful for is when I want to know how to do something: Chances are good there’s a video to instruct me on whatever it is I want to learn how to do. The “how to fold” videos I’ve shared are examples of this. I’ve also found text-based sites with instructions on how to do something I want to learn, but videos seem to make the skill easier to learn. Maybe that’s just me.

Finding good and reliable sites to learn stuff is relatively easy, I think, and worth the effort. Who wouldn’t want to learn new things?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Strange reflections

Whenever someone near to my own age who is well-known, or even just known to me, dies, it gives me pause. It’s that whole reminding me of my own mortality thing, because it reminds me of the fragility of my life, and that, statistically, the years ahead of me are more than likely to be fewer than the ones behind me.

Today I heard that Steve Strange (real name Steven John Harrington), one of the centres of the New Romantic movement in the 1980s, and lead singer of Visage, died of a heart attack aged 55. He was a little over four months younger than me, and he was also part of my youth.

The only Visage song I knew was also their biggest hit, “Fade to Grey” (video above). I loved that song when it was new, and it’s one of the few from that era that I sought out in digital form. The song reached Number 6 in Australia, Number 8 in the UK and Number 10 in New Zealand. I have no idea how well it did in the USA, but in those days I didn’t much care about such things.

I found out today that Steve Strange was also in the video for David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” (see below), and I see him clearly in one frame at least. That was before “Fade To Grey”. I also learned that he was one of the leading club promoters of what came to be called the New Romantic sound.

But this isn’t really about Steve Strange as such, much as I like that one Visage song. Instead, this is about the extreme discomfort I feel when I hear about an age peer dying. When my high school friend Hector died, I described it as being like the wind was knocked out of me. When someone who I didn’t know—but who was nevertheless significant in my life—dies, it also affects me. When the person is the same age as me, more or less, the effect is magnified.

Over the years, many famous people who were a touchstone from my childhood or youth or early adulthood have died, and each time I’ve felt a twinge of loss, though more a reminder of lost youth. When an age-peer dies—whether close to me or a famous stranger—I think of my own possible mortality, and that’s something I never did when I was younger.

Statistically, the years ahead of me are more than likely to be fewer than the ones behind me. I know that. But when another part of my youth dies, I’m forced to face that fact. When the person is an age-peer, I find myself realising that there, but for the grace of whatever, go I.

Fade to grey.

Update: I'd originally posted the video for "Ashes to Ashes", but that video has been made private, so I've replaced it with a version from DailyMotion. I also found more on the making of the video, including some stills, as well as more about the outfits they wore.

Update 2: I changed the "Ashes to Ashes" video yet again, this time to the one from David Bowie's YouTube Channel, so hopefully it'll be stable.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

E is for Expat

I couldn't post for ABC Wednesday last week, but I fixed commenting on this blog in the meantime. This is a perfect week to return, because what better topic could there be than the one word that describes me better than most others: Expat.

Expat is a shortening of expatriate, which, in turn, comes from the Latin ex (meaning, “out of”) and patria (meaning, "one’s native land"). So, expat or expatriate means, basically, living outside one’s own country.

There’s no single way to be an expat, and certainly no single, common experience, because people and countries are all different. Even so, we have surprisingly similar advice for anyone considering becoming an expat, or who just wonders what it’s like.

Louise, a Brit, is a cousin by marriage (we both married into the same extended family). She says, “I think the best advice I can give people is ‘don't be afraid to ask’. As a Brit, we don't tend to speak up often enough when we don't understand something, for fear of looking foolish, but I have found that the Kiwi attitude is that ‘you don't ask, you don't get’. Since I got over my British Reserve, I've found life a lot simpler and less confusing, because I just ask!”

This is one of the best ways to adapt to a new home country. It’s impossible to know from the start everything needed to fit in, and one of the best ways of learning is simply asking. It definitely can be hard doing so, but it’s fast and effective.

Pete, from Northern Ireland, has practical advice for expats. “Think about your future,” he advises. “No matter how young/being Kiwisaver (NZ’s national retirement savings programme) exempt, start building your own every payday.” This is especially important for permanent migrants, of course, but it’s usually safest to assume it’s permanent when you move to a new country.

The effort given to settling in definitely helps. Pete says, “After 6–9 months of integrating and meeting people and being open to new people, it does start to gain the feeling of home.” I agree, and openness to new things is kind of a perquisite for emigrating!

Nik, an American journalist now living in Auckland with his son and New Zealand wife, has particular advice for our fellow Americans who emigrate to this part of the world:
“A sense of flexibility and understanding of a non-American viewpoint is one thing I've taken on board… You hear a lot of casual insults and contempt for various things about American politics, culture, lifestyles, whatever, thrown about and that was very new to me, and I'm far from a flag-waving patriot. But it was hard not to take that personally somehow — ‘not all Americans are gun toting obese rednecks, you know…’ that sort of thing. Like people were somehow insulting me?

It is probably a novel feeling for a lot of Americans to learn that their country is not universally loved overseas and you have to get a thicker skin about people thinking because you're an American they can vent to you about all the things they hate about America. Particularly if their only real experience with the U.S. is from movies and TV. …That's one thing I had trouble accepting and understanding in my first year or so down here.”
When the US Government under George Bush was getting ready to invade Iraq, and there were protests against that worldwide, I found it was somewhat easier for me to allow strangers to think I was Canadian. Personally, I’ve found jibes at the US to have been done mostly in the context of jokes and humour, which in both Australia and New Zealand can be pretty pointed—I’ve known many Americans who thought such joking was overly harsh. People from other countries probably face similar situations.

April (who you can follow on Twitter), from the USA and now living in New Zealand, said that paperwork is a big thing for expats, “the paperwork/jumping through hoops required to remain in another country legally,” something faced by all migrants. She explains:
Since I arrived in NZ eight years ago, I've completed seven lengthy applications for the series of permits/visas I've needed to remain in the country. Each application included its own extensive supporting documentation, photographs, and fee; some even required x-rays and police reports. (Now that I'm a NZ citizen, the only form I need to worry about filling out is for NZ passport renewal. Huzzah!)
As if the paperwork for staying in one’s new country legally weren’t enough, April points out there’s paperwork for one’s home country, too:
Figuring out when/how to vote in one's country of origin, whether or not one has to file/pay taxes in one's country of origin, and things like maintaining property/other assets, even bank accounts or a valid driver's licence in one's country of origin are other examples of bothersome things I have to deal with from afar.
Taxes can be a big thing for US citizens living overseas, since we’re required to file every year even if we owe nothing to the US government. Voting overseas has become somewhat easier over the years, however.

Sarah from Chicago offers a sobering reality of being an expat long-term:
My advice regarding being an expat is that you never really can come home again, but that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. While you will change and grow through being away, when you come back you won't ever truly fit like you did before, not as easily as you did before. You'll always feel ever so slightly apart, not intertwined in the relationships like you were before.
The longer one is away from their homeland, the more apparent this becomes. A sense of loss, mourning, even, isn’t uncommon among long-term expats. But, as Sarah points out, for expats returning to their home country there’s an upside:
It'll mean you'll get to see your home through new eyes, conscious eyes—eyes not quite of a foreigner, but also no longer as a full native, either, anymore. You'll get to see new things about your homeland that you wouldn't otherwise, and critically evaluate so much of it. Of course, you'll also now also never truly feel rooted here, you'll now always have the drive to be elsewhere, to look to the Horizon. Itchy feet will be there as your constant companion.
The “itchy feet” is probably less of a thing for permanent migrants, those who never return to their homeland to live. It certainly hasn’t been true for me—yet?

April sums up what a lot of us expats thought before making the big move: “I used to think expats must live a carefree, sort of 'sexy' lifestyle but the reality has been very different [because of bureaucracy]. ‘Hey! New Zealand! Where is my carefree, sexy lifestyle, eh??’ (Also, I just laugh whenever non-NZers talk about the NZ ‘Lifestyle’!)"

Would-be expats also have to be aware of the potential that something could happen to a loved one back in their homeland, and they may not be able to do anything about it. Roger Green’s cousin, Lisa, wrote a heartbreaking post about exactly that happening. It sums up the risk beautifully.

With all that said, and warnings and advice given, there’s one more thing to be said: Being an expat can be the best imaginable experience for those suited to it. It changed my life for the better in every way possible, and this place is now home. Amanda van Mulligen blogged about how the new country becomes home, and it’s the life and memories that make it that way.

I learned about Amanda’s post through a Tweet from The Expat Magazine, and I learned about Lisa’s through Roger Green. I didn’t know any of them, or the people I quoted in this post, before I moved to New Zealand. Had I not had this experience living in another country, I probably never would have, either.

This is my 210th blog post talking about being an expat, one way or another. Some mention it in passing, and for some (like this one) it’s the main topic. Being an expat is an enriching experience in so many ways, though it’s clearly not for everyone. For those with a spirit of adventure, an open mind and an open heart, it can be truly awesome.

I'll try and answer any questions in the comments, or you can email me. The image above is a montage of two photos from NASA.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Flash, ah-ah

Tonight there was a flash in the sky, seen by people throughout the country. It was apparently a meteor, though at the moment that hasn’t been confirmed, nor has where, if anywhere, it landed.

I didn’t see it. I was doing other things at the time, and certainly not looking out the windows, but I did hear a few booms, similar to thunder, at about the same time people started reporting the flash. Not everyone who reported seeing the flash heard the boom, or vice versa.

The NZ Herald collected some personal reports from people, and Radio New Zealand posted a short video from someone in Christchurch. Stuff eventually posted some reader-reported sightings, after the others.

The earth is hit by thousands of meteors every year, most of which burn up in the atmosphere without anyone even knowing about them. If they make it through to hit the planet, odds are it will crash into the ocean. So, given how big the planet is, and how small the planet is, the odds of one hitting New Zealand are really small. We’ll know soon if this was one of those rare times.

But it did provide a little social media drama this evening.

Update 12 February: The flash has now been confirmed as a meteor that streaked over New Zealand, creating measurable seismic waves. It was travelling about 20 or 30 kilometres a second, before it apparently exploded over the ocean, approximately 150 kilometres east of Auckland, and also between 20 and 30 kilometres above the earth. The more you know

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Alabama problem

When Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore pulled a George Wallace and pledged to defy federal court orders in a doomed—and blatantly illegal—attempt to prevent the legal marriages of same-gender couples in the state, he apparently got upset that people dared to compare him Wallace. Obviously, the truth hurts.

Moore denied to NBC News that he’s just like George Wallace:
“I disagree with standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent blacks from getting equal education. We're talking about a constitutional amendment to preserve the recognition that marriage is one man and one woman, as it has been for centuries."
Not only is Moore’s Wallace-like stunt pointless (and his “facts” wrong), he’s also defending something that cannot be defended—just like Wallace did. It’s probably pretty obvious to most people that if Moore really doesn't want to be compared to George Wallace, then maybe he should stop acting so much like him.

However, there’s something else even more directly comparable than imitating Wallace: Alabama is directly repeating another shameful part of the state’s past.

Jeremy Hooper posted the scans below on his site, Good As You (click to enlarge):

The wording used by the Alabama officials determined to stop inter-racial marriage is exactly the same as the wording use by today’s Alabama officials determined to stop same-gender couples from marrying. Moore clearly has competition for evoking the state’s past—and repeating the sins of the 1960s and 70s in a new context.

Moore and the other Alabama officials have already lost. I guarantee that not one of them will defy the courts long enough to be sent to jail for doing so—they’re all grandstanding for political reasons and will cave before they have to pay any personal price for their stunts.

And that’s what makes Moore and his fellow Alabama politicians so especially disgusting: Regardless of what they claim to believe about marriage equality (and I presume that at least some of them are sincere about their anti-gay animus), their stunts are nevertheless only about playing political games with people’s lives, and that’s pathetic.

Still, Moore and his buddies have made their choices. They’ve decided to stand in the way of justice, and to remind people of their state’s deeply troubled past. Decades from now, when people no longer remember what all the fuss was about, Moore and his cronies will be mentioned in the history books, if at all, as being opportunistic far-right obstructionists. Just like George Wallace. They’ve chosen to perpetuate “the Alabama problem”, and that’s the saddest part of all.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How to go broke

New Zealand has an object lesson in how to run a business so that it’s certain to go bust. That company is called Repco, and it's utterly doomed. You heard it here first: Without a dramatic change in its leadership, Repco will certainly die. And, it should.

I became aware of this because I needed a battery for my car. Repco’s website has—well, nothing of any use whatsoever. Literally nothing. Super Cheap Auto, on the other hand, has ample help for selecting the right battery—and it can also be ordered online, while Repco hates the very idea of online ordering: Repco says, “bricks and mortar or bust”. Apparently, “bust” is the operative word.

In store, Repco couldn’t say what battery was right for my car. “Take a picture of it,” was their best advice. Over at Super Cheap Auto, they had iPads where customers could enter the make and model of their car and end up with the correct battery, no photo required. My battery was purchased from Super Cheap Auto. Of course.

The lessons in this tale are SO bloody obvious that I shouldn’t even have to mention them, but here we go: A business that wants to survive (let alone thrive) has to be where the customer is, ready and able to meet their needs wherever and whenever they are. A successful business must make it easy for customers to spend money with them, and it must make that whole purchasing experience positive. Repco failed on every single one of these criteria, and Super Cheap Auto succeeded on them all.

I could add that most of Super Cheap Auto’s advertising is on TV, where its customers are, and Repco relies on fliers in letterboxes that few people ever read any more. Just another example of a company that meets its market, as opposed to one that shuns it.

If a business is hopelessly incompetent, completely unable or unwilling to adapt to its customers’ needs, then, like so many other customers, I’ll simply and easily switch to the competitor that better meets my needs.

This isn’t “rocket science”—it’s basic, fundamental and easy customer service. If Repco can’t or refuses to meet the needs of customers, then it deserves to die. If it does, it has no one to blame but itself.

Footnote: Several years ago, I bought a car battery jump starter from Repco, but then I misplaced the AC adapter needed to charge it. There was no information included with the Repco-branded product to tell me about the adapter (polarity, etc,), and there was nothing whatsoever on the website. So, I used the contact form on the Repco website to ask them about it—a simple question, really. It’s now several years later, and I still haven’t received a reply. Enough said.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Weekend Diversion: Sam Smith (again)

It’s been a very busy week for work, so much so that I had to work over the holiday weekend to get everything done. That didn't really leave time for blogging—or much else, to be honest. But I did have a chance to see the video above on the day it was released, and I wanted to share it here.

The video is for Sam Smith’s latest single, “Lay Me Down”, from his multi-platinum debut album, In The Lonely Hour. The song is one of my favourites on the album, and I like this video just as much. I think it’s very well done, telling a story that fits the song.

The video was filmed inside an Anglican Church, and the wedding sequence makes it controversial since same-gender couples can’t currently marry in Anglican Churches.

Smith wrote on his Facebook page:
This song holds a very dear place in my heart. With this video myself and Ryan Hope the director have decided to make a statement and showcase something we passionately believe in. This video shows my dreams that one day gay men and women and transgendered men and women all over the world, like all our straight families and friends, will be able to get married under any roof, in any city, in any town, in any village, in any country.
I like that sentiment. But, I don’t know why, because I know better—I really, really DO know better—I read the YouTube comments on this video. The cruelty of the world temporarily broke the spell of the song and video. Most of the comments were positive, but many of those positive comments were in response to homophobic (sometimes viciously so) comments from others.

One religious person took it upon him/herself to trot out an implied “I’m not anti-gay, but…” when s/he suggested that gay people should be "allowed to love each other" (aw, gee, thanks!), but we shouldn’t be allowed to call our legal union marriage because that’s “sacred” and only for heterosexual couples. Yeah, right, whatever. S/he had no logical reason for that, apart from “it’s always been that way” (no, it hasn’t, actually…), and gays are stupid for disagreeing with him/her.

The vile commenters I can dismiss—most of them are probably just trolls getting their jollies from causing a reaction. But the people who say bigoted things and apparently sincerely believe they’re not bigoted just because they think LGBT people should “allowed” to love each other make me really sad. I feel sorry for them, blind to their own ignorance, prejudice and privilege/entitlement, but it makes me sad because it reminds me how very much work remains to be done. Coincidentally, Frank Bruni just wrote about that in the New York Times.

Pop music, I think, can help us transcend the ugliness in the world, and it can help us to see a world that might be some day, just as this song and video do. But the current world too often insists on forcing its ugliness upon us, intruding into our temporary aesthetic vacation. When the world tries to insist on being ugly, I just turn the volume up a bit.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Solving commenting problems

Today, I solved problems with commenting on this blog, and it was a family affair. Which is appropriate, really. Mainly, though, I’m just glad to finally find out why the problems were happening, and to end them.

Last month, I published a post, “How to comment”, which I did to deal with a particular problem, namely, that the way to comment isn’t necessarily as obvious as I think it should be. I don’t know whether that post helped anyone or not, but it at least explained what to do.

However, there was a larger problem that my January post couldn’t help.

My sister sent me an email last week, and at the end, she added, almost incidentally, “By the way, I still can't comment on your blog site without signing up first in order to gain access.” This confused me, understandably, because no one needs to register for anything in order to comment.

So, my sister sent me a screen capture of what she saw, and it turned out to be the log in to Blogger itself, and the reason she saw that was that since the Disqus element didn’t appear at all, she clicked on what is actually a way for the blog author (me) to log in to edit the post. This told me the problem was that Disqus wasn’t loading, and then all I needed to do was solve it.

It turns out, the problem was with the HTML code in the template for this blog. The photo below is from the Disqus help pages:

Step one isn’t actually current. Here’s how that step actually works: First, I click on “Design” in the upper right of my blog (this only works if I’m signed in, which I almost always am). At the top of the page that opens is the stuff relating to the Template. Under a thumbnail of the blog is a button “Edit HTML”. From there. the steps on the Disqus help page I linked to above. The code in question will be near the top.

The bad code was forcing Internet Explorer to emulate IE7, and Disqus only works on IE8 or later. So, anyone who used IE—even the most recent version—saw the page as if they used IE7, and that, in turn, meant that any reader who used Internet Explorer almost certainly was similarly unable to comment.

After I changed the code, my sister was FINALLY able to comment. I had quite a sense of accomplishment, of course, and it was all thanks to my sister helping me get to the heart of the problem so I could fix it.

I should note that this problem is largely unique to Blogger. Google doesn’t automatically update templates, and doesn’t exactly go out of its way to let users know that there are things needing updates. Wordpress, on the other hand, has automatic updates, which is a very strong advantage over Blogger.

In any case, a problem I wasn’t easily able to define before, is now fixed. Hopefully, anyone who wants to will now be able to comment. Thanks, sis! (and that’s funny because I don’t actually call her that…)

Monday, February 02, 2015

They really need to grow up

The CNN video above is of Mike Huckabee, potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, making a dick of himself—as he tends to do rather a lot—by saying stupid things about gay people (yet again). It’s part of a larger pattern, and I feel a rant coming on.

In the video, the Huckster said his opposition to marriage equality isn’t “just a political issue”, its’ a “biblical” issue. He then said that asking him, as a fundamentalist “Christian”, to support marriage equality was “like asking someone who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli.” Say, what?!

This particularly boneheaded comment led one person to ask the Huckster on ThinkProgress’ Facebook post, “…and when you ask the Jew to eat the bacon and he declines, does he insist that you not eat the bacon?” Fair point. NO ONE cares in the least whether the Huckster supports marriage equality or not—his approval is not needed and his support (or not) is irrelevant. But neither does he get to dictate to loving same-gender couples that they can’t get married just because his particular subset of Christianity doesn’t like it. And, by the way, there are plenty of Christians who DO support marriage equality, just as there are plenty of Jews who’d have no problem selling “bacon-wrapped shrimp”; the Huckster always assumes that all religious people are all far-right fundamentalists like him.

This pompous superciliousness among far-right “Christian” extremists is becoming quite common. In a recent “Stoplight” propaganda video from a rightwing “Christian” professional activist organisation called Focus on Your Own Damn Family (or something like that), the host declared that as a “conservative” he was opposed to marriage equality, “…especially now that we all can see that the goal has always been to use the force of government to silence Christian beliefs about morality.” Say, what?!

I hate to break it to him, but the goal in enacting marriage equality has never been about anything other than the freedom to marry for same-gender couples. As Jeremy Hooper put it on his site, Good As You:
Nearly Twelve years ago (and nearly six years ago, under law), I pledged a lifetime to one man for any number of reasons. I can assure you that pissing off Stuart Shepard and his Focus on the Family employers was not even kind of on my radar. In fact, neither Mr. Shepard nor Focus are ever on my radar, outside of my work challenging their constant onslaughts against my freedoms as an American taxpayer.
To complete today’s trifecta of crazy, there’s good ol’ reliable Tony Perkins, head bigot at the professional anti-gay hate group, “Family” Research [sic] Council [LOL]. Tony declared that LGBT people are persecuting “Christians” by posting photos of our lives on Facebook—yes, seriously!!

Tony was responding to a caller to his radio show who claimed that he’d seen a photo of “two naked guys sitting on each other”, but that’s a transparent lie because Facebook doesn't allow any nudity whatsoever (they don’t even permit photos of mothers breastfeeding their infants). Maybe he didn’t mean “naked” literally, but if that’s the case his bearing false witness kind of gives a lie to his claim of having complained “in a nice, respectful, Christian way.” Do these people not know they can “unfriend” someone on Facebook?!

Tony joined in the lying, however, by claiming that ALL LGBT people were “haters” who are “projecting”. But Tony himself did some high-grade projecting when he pretended that it was all LGBT people, not merely ONE mentally disturbed man, who took a gun into their corporate headquarters:
We’ve had them come into our building with guns, shooting, to try to kill us. We harbor no bitterness in our hearts toward them, which is something they can’t understand. They want to project and that’s why they like to call us haters and so on and so forth, but they’re projecting. [emphasis added]
The Huckster, Stu and Tone are all so up themselves that they that really, truly believe that the entire world revolves around them and their fellow travellers on the USA’s extreme right. The reality is that these people are arrogant and hubristic authoritarians who want to force their particular religious political ideology onto everyone else, but, much to their extreme dismay, normal people couldn’t possibly care less about them.

So, when we demand civil marriage equality, we absolutely don’t care whether far-right “Christians” approve or not, and there’s absolutely no way we ever think of them for even one millisecond when we’re getting a legal civil marriage. And, if those poor delicate flowers on the extreme right don’t like seeing perfectly ordinary Facebook photos of us living our lives—exactly the same sort of photos as they themselves post—well, too damn bad!

The fact is, disagreeing with them is not oppressing them, posting photos on Facebook is not persecuting them, and when we win the exact same freedom and liberty that they have—to marry, and to be free from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation—we are not diminishing their freedom and liberty, we're expanding it for us all.

They really need to grow up and learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them.