Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Future news

The future of periodical publications—newspapers and magazines—is digital. I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that. But what will that world look like? Well, we’ll get there eventually, but the early efforts have been hopeless.

Traditional newspapers and magazines are in trouble: Declining readership, declining ad revenue, rising costs—it all seems to indicate impending doom. How the various companies respond may determine if they survive, but already some are clearly getting it wrong.

The New York Times (NYT) is a good example: It has been active in pushing readers to subscribe one way or another. In fact, it’s become so intrusive that if I see a link to a NYT story, I now just ignore it. I can’t remember how many free views of their stories they allow in a month, but sometimes I’d swear it’s one.

The NYT has been sending me sales emails for months on end, each promoting a “limited time offer”, then telling me it’s about to expire, and then—miracle!—the offer’s extended. The deadline passes, and the emails start again, week after week after week. And then the cycle starts again.

What the NYT is promoting is in the screenshot above: The lowest rate is access to the NYT website from any device, plus access through the NYT smartphone App for $1.88 a week (after the first 8 weeks). After the first year is up, the rate goes up to $3.75 per week.

The NYT has a separate subscription rate for website and tablet access (the middle-priced option) and the most expensive version covers the website, smartphone and tablet. This is a very weird strategy.

First, their phone and tablet Apps are clearly different, which means different maintenance, which seems an unnecessary cost. Also, some features are apparently only written for the tablet App.

All three options allow subscribers to access up to 100 archived articles per month—why just 100? To be honest, apart from researchers, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to access anywhere near 100 articles per month, let alone more, but the limit seems capricious and arbitrary to me.

My main gripe is with their tiered subscription: It adds value by device, not by content desired. So, someone with a tablet who wants everything pays more than someone accessing mostly the same content on their phone and computer. Or, someone with a smartphone but no tablet is limited in what they can access. This is incredibly dumb. A much better approach would be to have the price go up as the subscriber gains more content. This is a true user-pays model, not one that rations content by technology, so it’s more like a print subscription where a person can decide how many days they want the paper delivered.

Ah, print—the thing that’s dying also shows, it turns out, the biggest problem of all for the NYT’s digital subscriptions: It’s way too expensive.

Daily 7-day delivery of the NYT within New York City is $3.50 per week and includes all digital access and apps for free. The cheapest digital subscription—which is just website and phone—is, after the first year, $3.75 per week. To get the same level of digital access that a print subscriber gets for their $3.50 per week, a digital-only subscriber would have to pay $8.75 per week (after the first year).

Clearly, the New York Times doesn’t want people to move from print to digital, so it charges FAR more for digital access than it does for print subscription in the city. At the very least, digital subscribers are subsidising losses from the print edition.

Of course, a print subscription in most of the USA (let alone overseas) would cost far more than $3.50 per week, so by that measure a digital subscription is a bargain, right? No. In the digital world, place means nothing: Digital content delivery costs the same whether the subscriber is next door or on the other side of the planet.

I’ve run into this before with US magazines charging the same amount for digital subscriptions as print, even though they have zero printing and distribution costs (in one memorable case, a magazine insisted on charging foreigners a higher subscription fee, just as they do with print, just because—they never could give me a reason, and I pushed for one).

There are already an ever-increasing array of digital-only publications available for free, and many of them are quite good. We’ll also see new subscription-based digital-only publications emerging that charge reasonanble amounts for their subscriptions. If old fashioned, old-time publishing companies want to compete, they’re going to have to learn not just that digital is different from print, but also the cost to subscribers must be, too.

The New York Times hasn’t learned that yet, but maybe there’s still time for them. If not, someone else will fill the void. Count on it.

The Modern Fundamentalist

I fully endorse this parody of Kim Davis and all the other self-righteous, holier-than-fuck fundamentalists. Besides, this is just plain funny, even if they can’t see it.

I’ve said many times that the greatest threat to freedom, liberty, and democracy is fundamentalist religion, and it doesn’t matter what kind: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist—it’s all the same, seeking to force one and only one religious opinion onto all people, by force, if necessary (and force always is necessary). Religious fundamentalists don’t want accommodation or compromise, they want conquest: Surrender to them or else!

And at this point I’ll stop this post. The original version said what I really think of religious fundamentalists and their war on democracy. Best I stop short of that point; let them wallow in negativity all they want. It’s all they know how to do, after all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It’s all black

The 2015 Rugby World Cup is on right now in England, and since rugby is the closest thing New Zealand has to a national religion, it's kind of a big deal. Because it’s in England, most the matches are played at very inconvenient times for New Zealanders. But we can’t for a moment forget that it's on.

Naturally, the TV news and newspapers report on what’s going on, particularly when the New Zealand All Blacks are playing, and also on teams with other Kiwis involved. For example, tonight I saw a report about the Kiwi coach of the team from Georgia (the country, of course; the USA has a team, though).

All of that is to be expected. But this year, All Black promotion is everywhere—even more, it seems, than in 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was here in New Zealand.

An example of that is the milk bottle in the photo above. Anchor produced the black milk bottles for all their varieties, and the only way to tell them apart was the coloured top and the matching colour on the label. There have been complaints about the bottles from customers and some retailers. I don’t like them, either, because it’s just too weird for milk, which normally comes in white or translucent bottles. Black bottles makes it seem off, somehow.

But there’s black products everywhere. A car company is running an ad of TV in which all their vehicles are black, but they assures us other colours are available.

Whittaker’s, New Zealand’s chocolate maker (and one of the very best in the world, in my opinion) has put many of their most popular varieties of chocolate in black wrappers, which makes it hard to tell them apart without looking very closely, just like the Anchor milk bottles. The top of Whittaker’s Facebook Page is below.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in New Zealand loves rugby or cares about the world cup. Even those of us who do, though with something less than obsession, get a little sick of seeing black everywhere. Even so, I think that even many of the most anti-rugby Kiwis would be okay with all the boosterism if it didn’t make everyday life a little harder, like by creating confusing product labelling. Actually, most are probably okay with that—apart from the milk bottles, maybe.

After all, the Rugby World Cup is only every four years, and before we know it, the whole thing will be over. Will the NZ All Blacks win the first-ever back-to-back championship? I don’t know, but if wrapping every single product in New Zealand in black could guarantee that, I’d be okay even with the milk bottles.

Here in the reality-based world, though, well, it’s really just the milk bottles I don’t like.

Go the All Blacks!


Monday, September 28, 2015

Feeling yucky

Nigel woke up in the wee small hours this morning, and didn’t go immediately back to sleep. That happens to us all of course, especially in the first 24 hours since the clocks changed. He lay there and listened to the birds singing. He thought they were up a bit early, and wondered what kind they were. Then, he realised: It wasn’t birds, it was my wheezy breathing.

Just the latest chapter in the Terrible, Awful Cold: 2015 Edition.

I can appreciate the humour in this current affliction, probably precisely because it’s not serious: In a few more days, I’ll recover. But getting sick does make me able to imagine how awful it would be to be unwell for weeks, months, or years. I’m also keenly aware that I have a condition for which recovery is assured, and I’m grateful that it’s not something without such assurance—or worse.

But none of that actually makes me feel any better, of course: It just makes it somewhat easier to endure. Being sick, however short the duration or light the seriousness, is never any fun.

Nigel gifted this Terrible, Awful Cold to me. His started the previous weekend, hit its peak toward midweek, and now, a week on, he’s well on the road to full recovery. My version began, really, on Thursday last week when I got up in the morning, felt movement in my sinuses, and realised that couldn't be a good sign.

Friday and Saturday were bad, with the usual cold symptoms: Lots of sneezing and running eyes and nose, along with a “hot” feeling and extreme fatigue. Those symptoms eased yesterday, apart from the fatigue. I actually felt the worst yesterday, and it was the first day of the affliction where I had an afternoon nap (on top of ten hours sleep at night).

And now today: Better than yesterday, but nowhere near full recovery. If my affliction follows the same arc as when Nigel had it, then tomorrow I should feel quite a bit better. Here’s hoping.

When I first moved to New Zealand, I got several colds over the first couple years. I thought that maybe that was because I was encountering new strains of the cold virus, and maybe I was. Up until that time, I seldom got colds, and when I did, they didn’t last long. After those first couple years in New Zealand, that pattern mostly returned.

However, I’ve noticed that nowadays when I get a cold, it seems much worse than when I was younger. I don’t know if they actually are worse, but perception is reality in this case.

This, too, will pass, and I’ll be better soon. I know that, and it does help. But it sure doesn’t make me feel any less yucky.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Daylight Saving Time again

It’s that time of year: New Zealand clocks “sprang forward” last night. I’ve begun to wonder more and more, why? And, I’m beginning to think it’s time to end the practice.

Changing the clock is easier than it used to be: Our electronic devices (computers, phones, tablets) change the time automatically. But our alarm clock doesn't nor do our two wall clocks, the oven’s clock or the microwave’s clock. I think the problem here isn’t that not enough clocks change automatically, it’s that we have too many clocks.

I didn’t notice the time change because I’m still dealing with this year’s Terrible, Awful Cold™, and I was in bed hours before the change and hours afterward. Even sleeping 10 hours or so a night, plus a long nap this afternoon, haven’t made me feel any better, so, really, changing the clocks is the least of my concerns right now.

But when I am well, I can’t help but be aware of how much people complain about the time change. Me, the only thing I complain about is when people insist on putting an “s” on saving in Daylight Saving Time. That annoys me—the time change itself, not much, usually.

What IS an issue, however, is working out time differences between New Zealand and other places. We don’t change our clocks the same time as other places do, and other places don’t change their clocks the same time that still other countries do. The point is, it’s chaos.

I think there’s a simple solution: Abandon Daylight Saving Time globally. Whatever rationalisations there may have once been—dubious though they were even then—are long since gone.

Time zones are a problem under the best of circumstances. Though I don’t think abolishing them would work, we can make them work better and predictably by ending the confusion and upheaval of changing the clocks twice a year.

Below is a video by C.G.P. Grey from nearly four years ago. I don’t know why I didn’t post it before, because it’s the sort of thing I would post. In any case, it talks about the history of Daylight Saving Time and an example of the problems it causes.

In any case, our clocks have changed. You’re unlikely to know what that means relative to other time zones, or when we next change our clocks (it’s the first Sunday in April), but don’t worry: Neither do most New Zealanders.

I recommend timeanddate.com as an excellent site to work out what the time is any place in the world, to arrange a time for an online meeting with someone in another country, etc. Plus, it’s easy to remember the web address anywhere—and any time—in the world you find yourself. The image at the top of this post is a royalty-free photo by Dean Jenkins, and is available from morgueFile.

Photo of the day – Auckland from space

The photo above was taken by US Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station. He shared it yesterday on Twitter. It was a cloudless day as the station passed overhead, allowing for that awesome photo.

The picture as originally shared was looking from the North, which made it appear upside down, compared to the way we’re accustomed to looking at maps. So I flipped the photo above the “right” way round. You can see the original in the link to Twitter or on Stuff.

As I said a few years ago, there’s no such things as “up” or “down” in space, and how we look at the earth is literally and figuratively a matter of perspective, and so is what is “correct” (which was the real point of that 2011 post).

In any case, whether we look at the photo as Scott Kelly shared it, or the “right” side up, it’s still a fascinating look at Auckland from a very long way up.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Worth Quoting: Senator Harry Reid

US Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the Minorty Leader of the US Senate, worked with Speaker John Boehner in their capacities as leaders. It wasn't always easy, but not necessarily alwaysas acrimonious as it may have looked. Today Senator Reid posted the following statement on Facebook:
I have not always agreed and I wasn’t always happy with what Speaker John Boehner told me, but he never, ever misled me. We had a lot of dealings, so-called “back-channel” meetings. He never, ever told me something that wasn’t true and I accepted that. I got where I understood John very, very well. His word was always good.

By ousting a good man like Speaker Boehner—someone who understood the art of compromise—the party of Eisenhower and Reagan is no more. I just think it’s very, very sad that the Tea Party caucus that Republican leaders embraced to win in 2010 have now taken over control of the party.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish John Boehner the very best in the future.
I’ve read multiple times over the years that Boehner never promised anything he couldn’t deliver, but also that the radicals in his own caucus prevented him from being able to deliver much of anything. So, he increasingly had to turn to Democrats to get anything passed, which is part of the reason the US House under his speakership did so very little.

But Senator Reid mentioned the real heart of all this: The Republican Party willingly embraced their radical teabagger faction, and that’s what led to Boehner’s demise.

Republicans did it because they wanted to win, and nothing else mattered. Sure, they thought they could control the radicals, but that doesn’t excuse their being willing to put the entire country at risk just for short-term partisan gain: “Party First!” is Boehner’s true legacy.

However, the truth is that the party of Eisenhower and Reagan died a long time ago. What we’re seeing now is just the teabaggers who destroyed the party dancing on its grave in jubilant ecstasy, because they believe they triumphed in getting rid of their imagined “enemy”. The irony, of course, is that Boehner may very well have been the only thing keeping them in power.

What happens next will depend on what the radical Republicans so. They’ll never compromise on anything, not even the next Speaker, so the real question is: Will the radical Republicans’ “Party First!” mantra finally lead to their electoral defeat? For the good of the USA and the Constitution, I sincerely hope so.

Didn’t see THAT coming…

John Boehner in 2009.
Today Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-Ohio 8), announced that he will resign as Speaker and from Congress by the end of October. Apparently, he’s jumping before he was pushed. While he said he was leaving “for the good of the [Republican] party”, things will actually get worse for them.

I am no fan of Boehner, never was, and if this was an earlier time, I’d be saying, “good riddance”. However, these times are nothing like the past, and the current Republican Party hates Boehner. His departure merely clears the way for the Republican Party to lurch even farther to the right—a year out from a presidential election.

Pundits are saying that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the favourite to become the new Speaker, and in earlier times, that would be true. But he’s unlikely to have the votes unless Democrats vote for him, too, because the radical right teabaggers will compromise with no one, not even a Republican.

The teabaggers want to shut down the US Government unless Congress cuts off funding for Planned Parenthood, based on those totally debunked propaganda videos put out by an anti-abortion activist group. The teabaggers know that if Republicans push through a spending bill that “defunds” Planned Parenthood, President Obama will almost certainly veto the bill, and Republicans don’t have the votes to override the veto, so the government will shut down—roughly a year from a presidential election.

Republicans shutting down the government yet again because of their stubbornness and intransigence on their radical right agenda—especially on an issue that would reinforce the party’s image as waging a war on women—will not go over well with mainstream voters, and will piss them off even more than this stunt did before. Not that the teabaggers care, of course: They only care about ideological purity, not what’s good for the country.

All of which matters because unless McCarthy commits to the teabaggers’ radical-right agenda, “defunding” Planned Parenthood in particular, they’ll all vote against him, and McCarthy can then win only if Democrats vote for him.

But if not McCarthy, who? ThinkProgress highlights the four men (they’re always men in that party…), one of whom “probably will be the next Speaker of the House”, and the other options are a bunch of extremist tossers: Climate change deniers, anti-LGBT bigots, leaders in the party’s war on women, strong advocates for the extremely wealthy and the obscenely wealthy—the usual teabagger extremist agendas, and all of them would scare the hell out of mainstream voters.

So, is it really in Democrats’ best interests to back McCarthy? Could it even seriously be in the country’s best interest?

Democrats could take the high road and say, for the good of the country, they’ll support McCarthy over any of his nutjob rivals. Or, they could bloc-vote for a Democrat and let Republicans fight and fight and fight. However, the reality is that even if Democrats support McCarthy, it won’t stop the constant sniping from the teabaggers in the House, nor their attempts to shut down the government, so McCarthy would be constantly fighting his own party just as Boehner did.

So, in a sense, it doesn’t really matter what Democrats do: Either way, Republicans will be fighting each other—and, ultimately, mainstream American voters—right up to the presidential election. Strategically, however, it may make the most sense to make a huge show of backing McCarthy—and saying it’s for the good of the country. This will contrast them strongly with Republicans—and even Boehner’s “for the good of the party” stance—while at the same time emboldening the teabaggers (who, in their most honest moments admit they consider Democrats to be traitors) to keep fighting their own leader, drawing even more contrast between the rational Democrats and the irrational—and downright crazy—Republicans. Meanwhile, there will be a Speaker. Win/win for all—especially America, because by overplaying their hand once again, the teabaggers may motivate the American people to finally oust the radicals.

In any case, pop the popcorn: This could be very entertaining.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Consent 101

Planned Parenthood (cue dramatic, scary music) has released a series of four videos about consent in sexual relations. Aimed at young adults, the four videos explore different areas of consent and what it all means. I think they do an outstanding job.

The video link above shows all four videos, one after the other, and here’s a caveat: While some of the imagery may not be entirely appropriate for viewing in a public place, the language is pretty clean. Your opinion on both may vary. Fair warning.

What I thought was effective about the videos was that they were clear and straightforward, and managed to be clear and direct without being explicit in language or images. The use of same-gender (both male and female) as well as opposite-gender couples makes sure that the message about consent is clear for everyone, without ambiguity. Besides, young people these days just aren’t as squeamish about such things as my generation was.

A lot of people become pretty warped when talking about consent, confusing and conflating it with politics and/or ideology. What these videos actually talk about is far simpler than that: Respect. When people respect their partners, and communicate honestly with them, it’s easy enough to understand what is, and what is not, okay sexually.

This is the sort of subject that really shouldn’t need special videos to explain, because our conversations about sex and sexuality should already be open and honest. But we all know that the reality is that the need is clear, in part because of all those who, for personal reasons, want to shut down open discussion of sex and sexuality.

So, for some people, videos like these may be the best chance they’ll get to learn about consent, and so, to understand what it really means. That’s definitely better than nothing.

But these videos are really good, with or without open discussion.

The second clown is gone

The second clown has come tumbling out of the Republican Clown Bus, seltzer bottle smashing on the ground, horn honking as it’s bent and destroyed. While I’m glad Scott Walker’s gone, his early exit surprised me.

When Scott announced his candidacy a bit over two months ago, I called him “The most dangerous clown of all”. Scott’s far-right, extremist political agenda made him bad, but it was the billions of dollars from the Koch Brothers and their plutocratic and oligarchic pals that made him dangerous: He had the cash to buy the White House and impose his terrible far-right ideas on everyone.

But, it was not to be, not in the year of the Trump Dump, the phenomenon that’s been sucking all the oxygen out of the Clown Bus, leaving all the other candidates gasping and struggling for attention. Even so, Walker did himself no favours.

ThinkProgress reported unflatteringly on Scott’s exit from the race, then they stuck the boot in: “The 11 Worst Moments Of Scott Walker’s Short Presidential Campaign” (http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2015/09/21/3704007/the-11-worst-moments-in-scott-walkers-short-presidential-campaign/). It was all stuff that Scott inflicted on himself because of his far-right ideology and apparent lack of campaign sense.

Even more scathing was Vox, which said of Scott that “he ran as the courage candidate, and acted like the Cowardly Lion.” They make a good case that Scott Walker’s real problem was that he simply wasn’t willing to fight to win. Clearly the Koch’s show pony was the wrong horse to back—released from the starting gate, Scott ran away.

So, Scott Walker destroyed his own campaign. Sure, Trump dominated everything, but Scott never really even tried. Good thing America found out what an empty suit he is before things ever got serious.

So, while I was surprised that Scott Walker quit the race so early, it’s clearly a good thing he did, and not just because of his crackpot ideology or his billionaire employers. Instead, we now see that he’s clearly not suited for the job, and the country should be grateful that it found that out so quickly.

As of today, there's still 1 year, 1 month, 16 days until the US presidential election.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Great Big World

The video above, “Hold Each Other” by A Great Big World (ft. Futuristic), was released a few days ago, and I saw it today for the first time. I like it—but that’s not why I’m sharing it. There’s something different about the story of this video.

This is the first of their songs in which Chad King (the one without glasses) sang a song with male pronouns. King, who is openly gay, told Logo TV’s “New Next Now”: “When I sang the line 'hold him,' it made me uncomfortable.”

It’s interesting to me that even now, with the mega-success of Sam Smith and other gay artists, singing honest lyrics could still make a singer uncomfortable. Even so, it doesn’t surprise me, despite the fact that King wasn’t trying to hide anything, and so, had no reason to not sing the correct pronouns.

The reality is that while marriage equality is spreading across the planet, and Western societies have growing acceptance for their gay citizens, we’re nowhere near it being a planet where sexuality is irrelevant. That day, if it ever comes, is decades away—even in Western societies, and in the meantime, there is some risk to living authentically, including for artists.

And yet, things ARE so much better than they’ve ever been, and they’re getting better all the time—in Western countries, at least. We see gay lives reflected throughout pop culture, and more and more often those depictions are honest and authentic. When singers have the courage to be who they are, and they can sing with authenticity, it’s a beautiful thing.

As I’ve said many times, things were very different when I was growing up. The Stonewall Riots happened when I was in primary school (and I didn’t know anything about them at the time). I was in university—maybe a decade later—before I ever heard of a pop singer who was actually gay (the same time I found out there were novelists who were gay). I wasn’t a singer or actor or novelist, but finding that out mattered to me because I could see my reality reflected in their work, even if it was still only subtly sometimes.

Nowadays, I can, among other things, listen to a song in which a man sings about his love for another man, and it makes me feel whole in a way that singers using vague pronouns or using the second person to address a lover could never do. I don’t have to make up my own story for a song—I don’t have to “fill in the blanks”, as I used to put it. Instead, I can just feel the song as my heterosexual friends and family have been able to do their entire lives. To them, this liberation of feeling may seem odd or silly, but it’s something that was missing for a good chunk of my life, and it was never missing from theirs.

So, it’s important to me, and it enables me to experience the magic of songs—or acting or novels or poetry—in a way that had never been possible when I was young. And I really like that.

So, I’m glad that Chad King was able to sing a song with the correct pronouns. I hope it soon becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Below is the first song of theirs I heard, “Everyone Is Gay” from 2013. It came about when they were challenged to write the "gayest song ever" (details are in the YouTube description). I thought it was visually interesting, and that the song was a nice, peppy pop tune, but I didn’t particularly like it for a number of reasons, so I didn’t post it at the time.

With more freedom and openness comes the certainty that there will be stuff that I don’t care for—and, eventually, I’m sure, even stuff that I loathe. But that day is not today. I’ll enjoy that fact while it lasts.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Like what you like

On this blog, I often share things I like—movies, TV shows, songs, even commercials. Sometimes, I also talk about what I don’t like. This is my space, so I can say what I like. However, away from this blog—including on Facebook—I rarely discuss what I like or don’t. Today, my friend Jason reminded me of why that is.

Jason recently went to the closing night of the Broadway production of the musical, Mamma Mia!, and today he published a post about it.

In addition to talking about the night, he also talked a bit about why the musical meant so much to him, and why he saw it so many times, observing, “From time to time I’ve taken some grief for being a fan of ABBA and the show.”

Now I admit that I didn’t understand why he liked the show as much as he does; I saw the show in Auckland and was rather unimpressed. But quite some time ago, Jason explained to me why he liked it, and I could see why he’d keep going, even if I didn’t share that affection for the show. His blog post adds even more details about why he connects with it so much.

I was also an ABBA fan (and I was one of the friends he mentions in that post), and, like Jason, I also took some grief for liking ABBA. I realised eventually that some of that was self-inflicted: I knew that some people looked down on ABBA (and anyone who liked their music) and so I just kept quiet about liking them.

When I saw other people being ridiculed, too—but online—I came up with Arthur’s Law: “Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.” It’s been very useful.

Several weeks ago, I shared a music video on Facebook, and got comments about how “awful” the song/artist were. I’d shared the song because I like it and it was on my mind at the time. I felt obliged to post a link to my Arthur’s Law post.

I wasn’t angry, nor was I hurt, exactly, but it did bring up memories of being ridiculed for liking songs or artists others didn’t. And it made me resolve—yet again—to try and avoid trashing what someone else likes, and most of the time I’m successful. What other people do and say is up to them, but in this area—as in SO many others—I think people really ought to think a little bit more about how their words make other people feel. This is just probably the easiest area to do that in, it seems to me.

Here’s an interesting thing, though: The “disapproval” of one’s choice in pop music is entirely location-specific, something I only learned when I moved to New Zealand and discovered that here—and in Australia—ABBA had always been big.

ABBA have an extensive discography, including eight studio albums and 73 singles over ten years. But in the USA, only 20 singles were charted (some of the others may not have been released as singles in the USA or the other countries I'll talk about), four of which were top ten, and only one—“Dancing Queen”—went to Number One. Only 10 of the charted singles were Top 20 in the USA.

In New Zealand, 19 singles charted and 12 were top ten, of which six were Number One. All but three of the charted singles were top 20.

Australia had 29 charted ABBA singles, 16 of which were Top Ten, and six were Number One (not all of which were the same as in New Zealand). 19 songs were Top 20 in Australia.

The difference is even more striking with albums: In The USA, seven ABBA albums charted, but none of them were any higher than the Top 20. All 8 studio albums charted in Australia, two went to Number One, all but two were Top 5, and all were Top 20 except their last album, and that one hit 22. All eight albums charted in New Zealand, too, with two going to Number One, five being Top 5, and all but the first two albums reaching the Top 20.

The point of all this trivia is that in the USA, I never talked about liking ABBA to avoid being ridiculed for it. But when I moved to New Zealand, I found myself in a country that embraced the group’s music. To this day, it’s not uncommon for their music to be played at a Kiwi party or to be chosen for karaoke.

This made me realise that likes and dislikes of things in popular culture are entirely relative—even by location. That being the case, why worry about what other people think of our taste in pop culture?

Well, because people can be dicks, for one thing, especially on the Internet. That won’t change any time soon. Oh, well: “Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Electrifying update

After I shared yesterday’s post on Facebook, a friend gave me some more information related to the commercial video from a New Zealand electricity company. That, in turn, gave me an excuse to share another New Zealand ad as well as update that post. Because that’s what I do—I share.

Yesterday’s post included a very clever video ad from Energy Online, and I said: “As far as I know, all the electricity companies have quit door-to-door sales.” It turns out that not all have, as a friend reminded me on Facebook: “Nova still uses door knockers,” she wrote. “We ended up signing up that way!”

Of course she’s right, and I should have remembered that because Nova Energy’s TV commercial (video above) is based on a door-knocker selling power. In my defence, the ad has been on TV so often over the past year or so that I now just tune it out.

It wasn’t always that way.

When the ad first began airing, I thought it was clever: It’s use of repetition to drive home the company’s name so people remembered it was different, and it did it in a light-hearted and silly way that I thought worked. My favourite part was when the salesperson and the homeowner stop in front of a framed photo.

But maybe it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt, because like a lot of people I know, I’m kinda sick of the ad. Maybe a new version playing off the same theme would be fun at first, too, but I think that this is the kind of thing that eventually becomes annoying.

Still, I did think the ad was cute the first few times I saw it, and it shows that, yes, contrary to what I said yesterday, some power companies do still use door-knockers, and I do strive for accuracy in what I post. All of which are good reasons to share this ad.

Besides, I don’t think I share nearly enough of day-to-day New Zealand life, and not just the latest political outrage or big news story. Not everything has to be shocking or electrifying, I don’t think.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Today in viral videos

Yesterday and today, I saw two different videos being shared around. They’re both ads, of a sort, both funny, and worth sharing. I have a comment or two about each.

The first video, up top, is a “spec ad” for Tide To Go, a product of an American laundry detergent company. A spec ad is one made in the hope that it is picked up and used by the manufacturer. There is an actual gay-inclusive ad for Tide Canada that Procter and Gamble has not yet had the courage to air in the United States.

This spec ad was shared on Facebook by the director, Mark Nickelsburg, and last I looked it had nearly 890,000 views, most of that over the past couple days. The ad stars Matt Marr, Karl Ramsey, and Lynne Marie Stewart. Stewart was best known to me for having played Miss Yvonne, “the most beautiful woman in Puppetland” on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-90).

The ad was shot in June and is not a direct mocking of that Kentucky county clerk, as some have suggested, but merely uses the trope of a religious bigot as the set up. The fact that her lines don’t sound quite “right” is meant to be part of the gag’s set up, and I suppose it works in that sense, but how else would the gay boys react other than as they did, given the lines she says?

I like the ad, the acting, even the premise, but the dialogue is a little lame. I prefer the Tide Canada ad, which also uses humour, of course. Mainly, I just want to see ad campaigns that include gay couples, something that’s becoming more and more common in this part of the world. Apparently, the USA needs to catch up.

Speaking of New Zealand advertising, here’s the next video, posted online a few days ago:

I think this is absolutely brilliant—part practical joke, part genuine ad, and a lot of fun. The ad (which I haven't yet seen on TV) is for New Zealand electricity company Energy Online, and what it refers to is that the company doesn’t send salespeople door-to-door to entice customers to switch power companies, something that used to be common. In fact, it became one of the most complained-about door-to-door selling techniques in the country, because they were intrusive, persistent, and frequent. As far as I know, all the electricity companies have quit door-to-door sales.

Which is why the tagline is “door knocking so last century”, because it really is. And what a great way to call attention to their promise of great deals online—although, it’s always best to check Powerswitch to compare rates actually switching power companies in order to find the best deal for a household's particular needs.

Video ads work best when they’re memorable, fun, and drive home a point. I think both these ads do that, and in a way that makes sharing them almost guaranteed.

Kudos to the makers of both ads.

Update September 17: It turns out, I forgot about a different power company's ads, and I talk about that—and share another ad—in a new post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tooth sayer

Today I had my first periodontic check-up since my last treatments in April. The short version of the story is that things went pretty well, but there’s more to do. And, that’s all good.

The periodontist says that the areas where I had the flap surgery have done well, and what was expected, but I have one more area where I need it. Basically, my gum has receded in that area and needs to be lifted up. After that, I’ll have a light cleaning in couple areas, then a hygienist appointment at his office. After all that, I head off to the dentist for the next phase.

I have gaps between my rear molars on both sides of my lower jaw. The periodontist believes that food is getting “stuck” there and causing my problems. The solution is to close up the gaps.

The dentist can use composite veneers to close the gap, though one of them is a wisdom tooth and I could just have it extracted instead. I’ll probably go with the veneers.

One of the things I didn’t get a chance to do since April was get to the dentist for an ordinary cleaning and check-up. So, I still need that, anyway, but the main thing is, still, taking care of the disease first.

As for the prettier smile thing that started this whole journey, well, who knows? I still don’t know what’s possible, so I can’t know the best option, either—or, even, if there actually are any options at all. Maybe in a month?

So, the periodontist was happy with my progress, I have FAR less work that needs to be done than at any time in this whole process, and there’s even some closure to all this. Good news.

It’s possible—though I can never know for sure—that none of this would have happened at all if I’d had regular dental care (with a dentist). If it had been included in our national healthcare, I might have been more inclined to do that, though, as I said earlier in this series of posts, my fear of dentists was my big barrier.

The larger point here, though, is that the “ifs” and “if onlys” don’t matter: I’ve moved beyond my fear and dealt with what was a threat to my health and, potentially, my life. I feel very proud of that. Makes me wonder what other fears I might be able to work through.

In the meantime, my next appointment is a week from Friday, and this saga will continue.

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

Necessary politics in Australia

In a necessary political move, Australia’s conservative Liberal Party has dumped its leader, Prime Minster Tony Abbott, and selected Malcolm Turnbull as new Leader and Prime Minister. It was the only hope the party had for winning next year’s national election, but it reinforces Australia’s image as the “coup capital of the democratic world”.

Tony Abbott was desperately unpopular with Australian voters, and that was dragging down support for the Liberal-National Coalition now ruling the country. Clearly, getting rid of Abbott was the only hope that the Coalition had for winning the next Australian federal elections, expected next year.

While Turnbull is “moderate” for a Liberal Party MP, in most respects he’s a typical conservative Australian politician. On two issues, though, he’s quite different: He supports action on climate change and he supports marriage equality, which is great.

However, today Turnbull announced during Question Time (the video is on YouTube; link is queued to the start point of the question and answer) that he’ll continue Tony Abbott’s plan for a plebiscite to “allow all Australians to vote” on whether or not gay Australians are real citizens or not by deciding whether or not same-gender couples will be allowed to marry as they can in New Zealand and the USA, among many other countries. I’ve heard a lot of speculation that he promised to prevent marriage equality being approved in this parliament in order to get the support of rightwing MPs, and this seems probable. Only about a month ago, he expressed his opposition to a plebiscite, saying:
“The reason I haven’t advocated a plebiscite after the next election is that it would mean, it will mean, that this issue is a live issue all the way up to the next election and, indeed, at the next election and, if we are returned to office, it will be a very live issue in the lead-up to the plebiscite itself."
Australia has now had five Prime Ministers since John Howard was defeated in 2007, losing his own seat in Parliament. In fact, it’s had five prime ministers in five years! The Australian Labor Party won the 2007 election, and Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister, only to be rolled by Julia Gillard in 2010. Gillard then won an election, but was later rolled by Kevin Rudd. Rudd then lost the 2013 election to Abbott, who has now been rolled by Malcolm Turnbull. If this wasn’t outlandish enough already, before the last election, Turnbull was Leader of the Opposition, but was rolled by Tony Abbott. All of this makes Australia sound like some sort of fictional TV series—or maybe they’re the Italy of the South Pacific…

During the Rudd and Gillard years, the Liberal Party had three leaders (making them Leader of the Opposition) over five years. Since the election last year, the Australian Labor Party has had one leader (after the ALP’s election defeat, Chris Bowen was interim leader until the leadership election in which he did not stand; Bill Shorten won that contest and has been leader ever since).

New Zealand, in stark contrast, last saw a sitting Prime Minister rolled nearly 18 years ago—December 1997—when Jenny Shipley replaced Jim Bolger as leader of the National Party and Prime Minister. There’s often speculation that ambitious National Party MPs might roll John Key if his poll numbers ever drop, but if that does ever happen, he’s more likely to resign rather than be rolled. At the moment, it seems he’s more likely to retire than be rolled or defeated. Of course, a week is a long time in politics (and an eternity, it seems, in Australian politics…), so this could all change.

The Leaders of the Opposition in New Zealand have been more varied. During the Clark (Labour) years, there were four leaders of the National Party (who were, of course, also Leader of the Opposition) over those 9 years. During John Key’s time as Prime Minister, there have been four leaders of the Labour Party over 7 years.

Since 2007, the total time in office for prime ministers in the two countries is also telling. In Australia, Julia Gillard served the longest, 3 years, 3 days, Rudd was second at 2 years, 286 days, and Abbott was the least, at 1 year, 362 days. In that same time, New Zealand has had two prime ministers during that time, because the 2008 election changed governments. We’ve had the same Prime Minister since 2008.

A major strength of the Westminster-style parliamentary system is that it’s possible to change an unpopular head of government without changing the political agenda that voters chose in the previous election. A weakness of the system, however, is that this can happen many times between elections without voters having a say. Changing the prime minister twice is one of the reasons that the Australian Labor Party lost the election last year (though there were many other reasons, too, of course). The potential for voter backlash will be on Malcolm Turnbull’s mind, making him unlikely to do anything too terribly unpopular.

The fact that Malcolm Turnbull banished the desperately unpopular Tony Abbott will almost certainly lead to a rise in poll numbers for the Coalition. Whether that’s sustained or not will depend entirely on what Turnbull does next, and that may determine whether he’s also rolled.

Pop some popcorn: The “coup capital of the democratic world” isn’t necessarily done yet.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Twenty years ago today

Twenty years ago today, on September 12, 1995, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, beginning the arc my life has followed since. Twenty-one years ago, I never could’ve imagined how different my life would become, and I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me it was even possible. It all began, really, 20 years ago today, and this is the story of what led to that day.

In early 1994, a good friend of mine who was a travel agent gave me a ticket to fly to Berlin (travel agents could do that back then). I’d never visited Germany, the land of many of my ancestors, and I was keen to go. I had a great time, apart from language difficulties: My high school German and cramming in the weeks before I left weren’t really of much use, and I struggled.

I visited only about 3½ years after German Reunification, and my hotel was in the former East Berlin, where English wasn’t as widely spoken as in the former West Berlin. I had no idea how limited my own abilities in the German language were until I was fully immersed. I managed to get through those to enjoy my visit.

That Christmas, my friend gave me a ticket to fly anywhere in the world that United Airlines flew. My first thought was to go back to Germany, but my friend gently reminded me that this was a bigger opportunity, so I broadened my thinking.

I then thought of South America, but remembering my language difficulties in Germany, I figured travelling to a continent when I didn’t speak or understand either Spanish or Portuguese wasn’t a good idea. So, I decided that wherever I went should be English-speaking. I thought of South Africa, but it didn’t feel safe enough to travel to, especially alone, and English wasn’t necessarily the main language I’d encounter. That left Australia and New Zealand, and it was about as far from Chicago as I could fly.

My original trip was to be a couple weeks or so in Australia, and something like three days (!) in New Zealand. I arranged the time off work, and was ready to go.

My friend was on Apple’s eWorld online service, which was international, something America Online, my service, wasn’t. So, I asked him that if he was in an eWorld chatroom with folks from Australia or New Zealand, would he see if anyone would be willing for me to email them to get advice on what to see and—maybe even more importantly—what not to see.

My friend gave me three email address: The first turned out to be a bad address, the second was an Australian guy who told me he’d be happy to give me advice, but he was far too busy right then, so I should contact him closer to the time. The third email address was Nigel’s.

Over the following months, Nigel and I emailed back and forth, and I eventually joined eWorld, too, and we chatted online. It soon became clear that we were onto something bigger than the both of us, which led me to change around my itinerary to spend more time in New Zealand.

On September 12, 1995, I got off a United Airlines flight from Melbourne, and met Nigel in person for the first time. Over the couple weeks that followed, he showed me some of the main tourist spots in the upper North Island, and I also got a job, which was an important task.

Finding a job mattered so much because it would be what would allow me to move to New Zealand to be with Nigel. It, too, was a step in the process that began on this day.

I’ve written a lot about the things that happened in the past twenty years, but not a lot about what came before it. That’s mainly because the day eventually became “lost”, particularly after I became a permanent resident. I talked about all that back in 2011’s September 12 post.

November 2 has always been the important anniversary because that’s the date I arrived in New Zealand to stay. I like to remember this day, though, because it led to the bigger one later on—and many happy years.

Today also begins what I (not seriously) call the “Season of Anniversaries”, and an annual series of blog posts commemorating events that have marked the progress of my life in New Zealand. It’s all in fun, really.

So, today's may be a minor anniversary, but it’s still an important milestone in this journey. Back in 2012, I posted something on Facebook that’s still as true as ever:
“Never underestimate the power of love to make the improbable possible, or to transform the unlikely into an entirely new life.”
The journey toward my entirely new life “began to begin” twenty years ago today. I’m the better for it.

Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)

The first clown exits, stage right

Today ex-Governor Rick Perry became the first Republican clown to exit the party’s clown bus. Clearly, no one will miss him. It was a very anti-climactic end to a political career that had once been touted as being on a trajectory to the White House. Oops.

It was actually his infamous “oops moment” that derailed his political career. It was in a debate on November 9, 2011—less than four years ago—when Perry couldn’t remember the third federal agency he’d get rid of should he be elected president in 2012: "I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops." [a video of it is on YouTube]

He was widely ridiculed for that, and his campaign never recovered. When he announced his 2016 run, it was brought up again. And now that he’s leaving, the “oops” jokes have returned yet again.

I think that Perry probably didn’t deserve the attacks over his “oops moment” when there were so many batshit crazy things he espoused. But he never really got the chance to try and sell his snake oil this year because no one could hear him—they were too busy laughing at him.

Meanwhile, nearly all of the other Republican clowns candidates have eagerly tried to out-crackpot each other, making Perry, even at his most extreme, just another voice espousing extremist nonsense. In fact, the Republican clowns candidates are SO similar, it’s tempting to refer to the Republican Clone Bus—maybe the Republican Clown Clone Bus?

Back when the Republican clowns candidates first started piling on the bus, horns honking, seltzer bottles spraying, I didn’t think that Perry would be the first to drop out. Sure, I knew he’d never win the nomination, and I thought he’d exit the bus early, but there are plenty of others I would’ve thought would quit first. Oops.

Well, that’s one less clown to worry about, and he’s just the first of many who won’t still be candidates when the first Republican candidate selection votes are finally cast. I wonder if any bookmakers are taking bets on who will be next—although, with so many choices, there’s probably not much spread in the odds.

In the meantime, there are still FAR too many extremist and batshit crazy Republican clowns candidates.

And, there’s still 1 year, 1 month, and 28 days until the November 2016 elections.

Photo of Rick Perry in 2012 by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 11, 2015

There is a reason

It is not on accident, or because of laziness, that I haven’t posted as much lately. I have plenty to say—or, rather, I would if I wasn’t so utterly detached. The reality is that I’m fed up—once again!—with politics in two countries. Trust me, it’s best that I don’t say what I REALLY think!

US politics in particular leaves me utterly baffled: Why in the hell are such incompetent, unqualified morons like Donald “The Hair” Trump and Ben “What Me Worry” Carson doing so well in the Republican Presidential Candidate Idol? I cannot begin to express my contempt for those idiots, but it’s not really about them: How has the Republican Party sunk so low that morons are their most viable candidates? I cannot understand that at all.

In New Zealand, we have the idiotic flag referendum (and I probably mean that in a way you don’t, fellow Kiwis…). It’s not the cost alone, it’s the many conflicts of interest that must lead, I think, to the conclusion that John Key set this whole thing up to get the result he wanted all along. And yet, people LOVE John Key. Sure, they may be morons or masochists, or they just love politicians fucking them over repeatedly (I have no idea what it is), but it is the reality in New Zealand, and none of the opposition parties are anywhere near deposing John Key and National. In truth, they don’t even seem to understand what the problem is.

So, I hate politics in two countries, and I have no idea what to do about it. Remove myself? Yeah, easy for the USA, but in New Zealand? Where I live? It’s not so easy. For the first time in my political life—and we’re taking nearly forty years—I really want nothing to do with party politics in any country. What do I do?

The answer for me, at the moment, is to say nothing at all. Sure, I’m not free to say what I really think about New Zealand politics, but that’s not the only reason I’ve been abstaining: The harsh reality is that I simply don’t care anymore—I don’t want to be a part of what I’m talking about on this blog.

When the time comes, when I’m no longer constrained in my commentary about NZ politics, I probably won’t say a lot that’s different: The issue isn’t my restriction, it’s that I simply don’t care about what the players in this game want. What happens, happens. But, I DO want to say my honest opinion, not what I think I acceptable.

So, I hold my tongue, more often than not, because I feel utterly detached from the politics of two countries. And yet, the posts in which I lay out what I think are the most popular—can I ignore my readers? I honestly don’t know.

In the meantime, my lack of posts is not on accident or because of laziness—I’m just utterly detached from everything.

Related: Almost exactly two years ago I made what I called "a tactical withdrawal" from posting overtly political things on Facebook, and since then I began my AmeriNZ Facebook page where I sometimes share overtly political things (in additon to sharing my blog posts, podcasts, and YouTube videos).

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Let’s ban the banner

Freedom of expression isn’t absolute—we all know that. But any government seeking to restrict freedom of expression ought to have a damn good reason. New Zealand just temporarily banned a book, and there was no good reason to do so.

The book in question is a New Zealand young adult novel, Into the River by Ted Dawe, an award-winning novel that has had a fraught relationship with government censors. It’s a twisted tale, but before I talk about its journey from award to banishment, a little about New Zealand’s censorship system.

New Zealand has two entities involved in censorship. The first is the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which is an independent agency that, for the most part, gives ratings to books, movies, video games, and recorded music, so that children can’t access “inappropriate” material. Most of the arguments over ratings are about what is appropriate for children and at what age, with fundamentalist Christians arguing for the greatest possible restrictions in nearly every case, sometimes arguing that materials should be banned altogether.

However, very little apart from pornographic material is ever banned altogether, and all the wowsers on the religious far right do is waste taxpayer money as government bodies are forced to deal with the radical right’s frequent pearl-clutching over something they don’t approve of and think should be withheld from everyone because of their disapproval.

When someone—usually, but not always, for fundamentalist religious reasons—doesn’t like a rating something’s been given, they can lodge an appeal with the Film and Literature Board of Review, which is under the Department of Internal Affairs, the government department charged with enforcing censorship. They have the power to review and change ratings made by the official censors, the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

There are two people who play prominent roles in this saga: Bob McCroskrie, head of the fundamentalist “Christian” pressure group, “Family” First. Bob and I have verbally tussled many times, many documented on this blog. There are very few things (any?) that we agree on, but we’ve kept our interactions pretty civil despite all that.

The other player is Don Mathieson, a Queen's Counsel, who is president of the Board of Review. He is a conservative Christian and edited a book called Faith at Work, and he also contributed an essay to it. The book is promoted with the statement, "Faith goes beyond church on Sunday. It must impact on every area of life." He also wrote a criticism of the Anglican Church in NZ’s proposal to develop a liturgy for blessing same-gender couples (whether or not the church agreed to perform marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples). He was adamantly opposed on conservative doctrinal and theological grounds, and much of his rhetoric struck me as displaying clear anti-gay animus.

So, the system and actors explained, here now is the chain of events. Although shortened, you may want to pour yourself a cuppa before going on:

In July 2013, the month after the book won Book of the Year at the NZ Post Children's Book Awards, the Department of Internal Affairs referred it to the Office of Film and Literature Classification after receiving complaints about it (organised by Bob, I imagine). The Censor rated the book M (unrestricted), but with a note about the content) in September. Labels indicating the rating were not ordered, since it wasn't age-restricted.

"Family" First then appealed that rating to the Film and Literature Board of Review. In December of that year, the Board mainly upheld Bob's complaint, but imposed an R14 rating, meaning it was restricted to people aged 14 or older. That rating had never been used under the Classification Act before then. The Board also did not order stickers be placed on the books, which was also unusual for an age-restricted item.

Bob, however, wanted it rated R18, which would kind of defeat the purpose of the book, of course, which was intended for older teen boys. Don Mathieson, the board president, wrote a dissent—which is apparently a very rare thing to do—saying the book should have been rated R18. Like Bob, he objected to the supposedly foul language and the sex scenes in particular.

In March of this year, Auckland Libraries asked the Censor to review the rating. They pointed out that since libraries and book shops don't have an R14 Section (and most don't have an R18 section, either), there was no practical way to have the book freely available to people 14 and over. This clearly placed a burden on libraries and bookshops as well as restricting freedom of expression for people legally allowed access to the book. Whether that's permissible under the Bill of Rights Act for THIS book is a main point of contention.

Last month, the Censor removed the restriction. Normally, a rating is reviewed after three years, so the Right is claiming the Censor’s removal of the restriction was "illegal". It was unusual, but that doesn't necessarily make it illegal.

Four days after the restriction was removed, Bob again complained (of course), and that's when Don banned the book altogether. It is legal to possess a copy, but it cannot be shown, lent, or given to anyone else (even a spouse, for example), and it must not be displayed. Individuals can be fined $3,000 and organisations $10,000.

The ban is temporary, until the Board of Review reviews the restriction. No one—including “Family” First—is seeking a permanent ban, they just want to prevent kids from having access to it, and Bob wants label stickers on the book.

As it happens, the ban was one of only two options that Don had under the law: The other was to allow the book to be sold without restriction. The Board has no power to put the reclassification on hold while it considered Bob's complaint, so Don banned it rather than allow it to be sold or lent unrestricted. This was to be expected when he clearly thinks the book should be available to adults only, but it was nevertheless an unprecedented action—no book has been banned since the current censorship law was enacted.

Interestingly, anyone who's affected by the ban can file a request that the ban be lifted. This could include someone who wants to buy or borrow the book, a librarian or bookseller who cannot supply the book to meet demand, etc. I believe, but am not certain, that Don can do as likes about the objections to his ban, including reject them out of hand.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


One week ago today, New Zealand entered Spring. And since then, it’s rained at least part of every single day, apart from today, and it’s also been cooler—even colder—than it was in the last few weeks of winter. This is, of course, typical.

The early part of any season is a lot like the season that preceded it, and this is no different. But there IS a kind of let down when, after a long winter, Spring arrives and it’s more wintry than Winter had been at the end.

October is often (but not always) kind of hot, while November—the last month of Spring—can be cool again, as can the first part of December, when Summer starts. All of this I’m used to, and, nevertheless, every year when September rolls around, I sigh at how cool (or cold…) and rainy it is.

Last year at this time we were nearing the end of the NZ election campaign, and I was going out on cold mornings to wave signs. Sometimes it rained, and sometimes it rained a lot. On the last day of the campaign, September 19, we waved signs in a torrential downpour with the then-Leader of the Labour Party. It was hard to be happy/peppy campaigners when cold rain is soaking your pants legs, shoes and socks, and the arm holding the sign. By comparison, this year is MUCH more bearable!

Today was absolutely brilliant, for the most part: It was cool, yes, and cold in the morning, but it was also sunny until the afternoon, when it clouded over. But, it didn’t rain! This is progress!

So, I’m not thrilled with the weather at the moment, and I’m anxious to get outside and start tidying the gardens, as well as to again hang the washing out to dry. While I’d like sunshine and warmer temperatures for both, I’d settle for cloudy but dry days to tidy the gardens.

I’ll have to wait a bit longer, probably: Spring’s only just beginning.

Update: There's an update to this post (fourth item).

Monday, September 07, 2015

‘Red Peak’ raises a red flag

I hate that NZ politics has made me so suspicious and cynical, but it has, and I can't stop wondering why there's all this talk about the "Red Peak" flag (image above). The same questions pop into my head every time I see a news story or Facebook post about the design or the “campaign” to add it to the referendum. The questions boil down to, “why?”

Is someone promoting “red peak” flag behind the scenes? If so, who? And why THAT design and not any of the other 10,000 designs that didn't make the final four? It just feels like we're being manipulated, and every time I see yet another news story or a post on Facebook talking about the "Red Peak" flag and the "campaign" to add it to the referendum, those same questions pop into my head.

Stuff said the other day that the campaign began with Nelson-based venture capitalist Rowan Simpson, whose blog post on the “Red Peak” flag I read at the time. But Stuff also said that Simpson didn’t “set out to start a movement”, yet that’s what there is.

If Simpson isn’t promoting it, who is? It seems it may have become a genuinely organic campaign now, but it happened awfully fast, and a little tidier than we usually see with grassroots campaigns.

There’s a Facebook Page for it and a Tumblr that links to all sorts of high-resolution images of the flag free for the downloading (including the one above), along with the detailed story about the design (and nothing much at all about the designer). The Tumblr says “The Red Peak flag was intended to be a ‘new’ symbol that expressed our NZ identity while avoiding the use of Southern Cross, Koru, Kiwi, Fern motifs (that many others have explored),” yet the designer also did several other flag designs, some with the traditional motifs used by others, and some designs were abstract like Red Peak.

So, again, why THIS flag?

To be sure, much of what they say about “Red Peak” on its Tumblr are true about flag design principles generally (such as, it should be simple, it has to look good small, a child should be able to draw it, etc.). And, I don’t hate the design, so for me it’s not actually about the design itself.

It’s just that to me, the campaign for “Red Peak” doesn’t feel entirely genuine or transparent. Maybe it is, maybe it’s one of those rare times when an idea has caught the public imagination and just taken off—maybe, but I’m suspicious.

I don’t have any idea what will happen, but John Key has a history of doing an abrupt change of direction when the public is leading in a different direction than he wanted, so if this campaign and the several petitions about it continue, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him add it one way or another.

Whatever happens, though, I don't expect to see my questions answered.

Update: There's a brief update to this post (second item).

Friday, September 04, 2015

It’s simple and clear

It’s simple and clear: That Kentucky county clerk is in jail for one thing and one thing only: She defied a court order. The rule of law matters, no one is above the law, and no one gets to pick and choose what laws to obey. That’s it—there is NO other issue—absolutely none.

It’s important to get that clear up front because the professional activists in the radical right anti-gay industry are trying to spin this as being about “religious freedom”, which is a cynical and deliberate lie. The woman can believe whatever she wants to, but she cannot—ever—defy a court order. She’s now paying the lawful consequences of defying the rule of law, which is the right and proper result of her actions.

However, it’s also true that the woman openly refused to do the job she’s paid to do—by some of the very taxpayers to whom she defiantly refused to provide lawful government services. She cannot pick and choose what laws to obey, and she cannot pick and choose which citizens she will provide with a lawful government service she is required by law to provide to all citizens.

All of this matters because, as the graphic above from People for the American Way sums up, her religious beliefs have never—ever—been infringed. She’s free to believe whatever she wants to. She can tell the TV cameras how much she hates gay people if she wants to (as long as it’s on her own off-duty time). She can spend every waking moment of her free time in her church, she can use her free time to picket funerals if she wants to—all of that and more—but she is lawfully required to do her job, and she cannot under any circumstances defy a court order.

And that’s that. The radical right claiming she’s somehow oppressed for her religious beliefs is absolute nonsense. Some rightwing Americans have been duped by radical right politicians into believing that there’s “religious persecution” going on, but the radical right establishment is lying. On Purpose. To score partisan political points. And to make lots of money.

That Kentucky woman is in jail only because she defied a court order and declared she was above the law. She got the punishment she deserved under the law, and she also got exactly what she wanted.

And that’s all there is to this story. It’s simple and clear.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The flag alternatives and my choice

The four five candidates for the new flag of New Zealand were released today (video of the four five flags “flying" above), and my early favourite made the cut. Three out of the four are good designs and good contenders. I already know how I'll rank the designs.

My top choice “Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue)” by Kyle Lockwood (above), and my second choice is his other design, the very similar “Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue)”. I think the one with red is stronger because it will be visible when it’s limp on the flagpole, and in certain lights the black would look blue. Also, black is associated with our national sports teams, particularly with a silver fern frond, and that just doesn’t seem appropriate for a national flag.

Lockwood’s original description (in the downloadable PDF) of the flag said:
“The silver fern: A New Zealand icon for over 160 years, worn proudly by many generations. The fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future. The red represents our heritage and sacrifices made. Blue represents our clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, crossed to get here. The Southern Cross represents our geographic location in the antipodes. It has been used as a navigational aid for centuries and it helped guide early settlers to our islands.”
That’s a really nice symbolic story, and fitting for a flag that is evolving from the old one. It’s also the brightest and most colourful of the designs, and those colours are part of that. The black area on Lockwood’s other design doesn’t add anything, I don’t think; in fact, I think it detracts.

My third choice (distantly) is “Koru” by Andrew Fyfe. It’s a striking design, but to me the koru looks upside down (the real thing has a little bulb at the end). Because it doesn’t have a silver fern frond, the black doesn’t bother me as much on this design.

My least favourite design is “Silver Fern (Black and White)” which just looks too much like a corporate logo to me. I don’t find it in any way inspiring.

The Flag Consideration Project has done a really good thing with the “four alternatives” section (also in the PDF I mentioned) of their website: Click on a design, and look at the design alone, flying “backwards”, limp on a flagpole, “flying“ in front of the United Nations, on a backpack, and at a sporting event, plus a video of that design “flying” (all photos and videos of the flags flying are, of course, simulated). I think that seeing the designs in real-world variations is a really good thing and will help people to choose a favourite.

The backpack thing is particularly on-point, because it would nice to have a flag that could be sewn on a backpack and not be confused with any other country’s flag, because there’s certainly nothing unique about a flag with the union jack on it.

I’m well aware there are people complaining about the whole process, or even just these four alternatives, but—to be brutally honest—I couldn’t possibly care less: I’ll be voting in both referenda. What other people do or don’t do is their business, and my choice is mine.

This is an exciting opportunity: I hope most New Zealanders embrace it.

And here’s the video of my choice flying:

Related: Absurd flag flapping – My post about a weird conspiracy theory about the move to replace the flag.

Update: The Government, with support from the Green Party, has legislated under urgency to add a fifth flag, "Red Peak" to the first referendum. I've replaced the video up top with the current one, which includes all five designs.