Thursday, November 30, 2006

Condoms Attack!

I wrote previously about the Hell Pizza chain delivering condoms as part of a promotional campaign for their Lust pizza, and the upset that caused some people.

Well, it seems the complaints about the stunt have been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The Authority ruled that the promotional campaign was in breach of principle 4 of the code, requiring ads to be prepared with a sense of social responsibility.

This is a curious thing: One would think that distributing free condoms would be a good and socially responsible thing to do as a way to reduce unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. The advertising agency responsible for the campaign suggested as much, and pointed out that condoms are readily visible and available in grocery stores, corner dairies and petrol stations.

Nevertheless, the Authority felt not enough consideration was given to the fact that some people would be offended. They also helpfully suggested that “the use of other media which specifically targeted those at risk—such as a young adult audience—would have been more appropriate.”

Apparently the ASA is unaware that since “a young adult audience” is precisely the consumer target market for Hell Pizza, the people who would be most likely to pay attention to the ad campaign were young adults. Nevertheless, one wouldn’t want to risk upsetting the uptight crowd, now would one? One can still hear their porcelain tea cups and saucers chattering in their shaking hands.

Predictably, the right wing religious types were joyful (just think how much they must hate a pizza chain called “Hell”). They said it was “a victory for the protection of families from grubby advertising.”

Yeah, whatever. Personally, the only “grubby advertising” I can remember was funded by some extremist religious types in the last election.

The Authority has dismissed five other complaints against the chain over the past two years. Pity they didn’t dismiss one more.

Spooks on Parade

The heads of many of the world’s spy agencies converged on Wellington this week, ostensibly to mark the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service. According to radio station NewstalkZB, the gathering included “the Director of the CIA, the Director General of the British Secret Service and the Directors General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian SIS.”

The report says that “the gathering also formed part of an ongoing liaison relationship.”
New Zealand’s role in the “intelligence community” has been written about extensively by Nicky Hager, whose latest book has been in the news this week, too.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is peace the spawn of Satan?

A homeowners association in Pagosa Springs in southwestern Colorado (about 40km or so north of New Mexico and 435 kilometres southwest of Denver) is all in a tizzy over a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace symbol.

According to the Associated Press, Bob Kearns, the association president, said some residents who complained about the wreath have children serving in
Iraq. Others “believed it was a symbol of Satan.” The article also says only three or four residents complained.

Kearns ordered the committee that overseas signs and displays in the subdivision to require that the wreath be removed. They refused, finding instead that it was just a seasonal display. So, Kearns fired them.

The association is threatening to fine
Lisa Jensen, the woman who put up the display, $25 a day until she takes down the wreath. Jensen estimates that, if enforced, she will be fined about $1000 for displaying the wreath.

Jensen is a former association president herself. She said the wreath wasn’t about
Iraq. "Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing,” she told the AP. She also refused to take the wreath down, asking “What if they don't like my Santa Claus?”

Has the association forgotten that one common wish for Christmas is “Peace on earth?” Or is that “Satanic,” too?

Update: The homeowners' association has apparently backed down and will not now impose fines for displaying a peace symbol.

The Key Note

A few posts back I complained about the fawning, sycophantic coverage of Don Brash and the National Party right up until he finally resigned. Today, the New Zealand Herald went almost to the other extreme.

In an extremely odd article, Claire Trevett talks mostly about the atmosphere around John Key’s first major speech as Leader of the National Party. She talks about Key’s pronunciation difficulties in spots, and the winner of a wine raffle, but gives little attention to Key’s words. She writes:

“Then the slogans to spell out what drives him and his vision for the nation roll out. There is the valuing of family, policies that encourage hard work and building ‘a sense of what it is that binds us together as New Zealanders’.”

All of which is true, but when I read about a conservative politician talking of “valuing of family,” alarm bells start to ring because it’s usually code words for extreme social conservatism.

In fact, what Key actually said is more enlightening about his views. The transcript reads:

“I support families. In modern New Zealand they come in many shapes and sizes, so let me tell you that I for one will not pre-judge the construction of them. They are in my view the most important institution in our society…”

There was nothing in the article that gave any real understanding of what Key thinks about any issue. This is important, considering that at the moment the National Party is out-polling the Labour Party and might possibly form the next government. The country’s largest newspaper has a duty to examine real issues, not talk about the crowd being “somewhat anaesthetised by glasses of wine, ham on the bone and scalloped potatoes.”

The Herald might argue that this is the territory of its columnists. Indeed, commentators should and must take these issues on. But there, too, the Herald does a disservice to the
New Zealand public: It charges an access fee for anyone wanting to read columnists online (you don’t even get the first paragraph for free, as major world newspapers do). Note to the Herald: Your columnists aren’t that good that you should charge a premium for them.

I used to say the
New Zealand deserved better than Don Brash. Whether John Key is better or not we’ll find out over time. But can we count on the New Zealand Herald to help us find out?

Incomplete Recollection

The Dominion Post reported that emails appear to show that former National Party Leader Don Brash knew of the Exclusive Brethren’s secret plan to influence the 2005 election as far back as May 2005. He has repeatedly claimed he didn’t know about it until August 2005, and that admission came after he initially denied knowing anything at all. All this from a man who kept attacking the Labour-led Government’s integrity.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Encouraging Words

Yes, I can say something nice about the NZ National Party: So far, John Key and Bill English are making all the right noises. Sure, it’s very early days yet, but credit where credit is due, I reckon.

The news media have been talking about Key and English pulling the National Party to the centre. They base this assumption on early statements from Key as well as the more centrist position of the party when Bill English was leader.

“I believe in a tolerant and inclusive
New Zealand,” Key was quoted as saying. “I believe in a society which is therefore to the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

English led the National Party in a centrist election campaign in 2002. The failure of that campaign is part of what emboldened the right to take control of the National Party. Don Brash, according to Nicky Hager’s Hollow Men, then took it farther, relying far too much on the advice of right wing advisers, including some foreign.

The result of the Brash leadership was a divisive party that alienated Maori, women and centrist voters in general. In moving away from that legacy, the challenge for National will be to stake out distinctive positions in the centre that can compete with Labour’s own centrism.

New Zealand Herald’s political correspondent, John Armstrong, suggests that “National needs to start outsmarting and outflanking Labour with some bold ideas that reach right into Labour's heartland,” an area, Armstrong says, “where National leaders never normally go.”

New Zealand voters aren’t particularly partisan and will consider supporting parties that reflect ordinary people’s centrist values, not the phoney “mainstream” of Don Brash’s divisive tenure. They want New Zealand to move forward—together.

John Key said “the future
New Zealand must be a New Zealand that everyone feels they have a stake in.” Like most New Zealanders, I couldn’t agree more. Now, we’ll just wait and see if he really means it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back from the future

Pardon me if I don’t join the giddy chorus of chirping supporters of John Key, who today became the new leader of the New Zealand’s conservative National Party. Key replaced Don Brash, who finally resigned as leader last week after months of missteps and misstatements.

Key’s new Deputy Leader is Bill English, who was leader of the National Party until he was rolled by Brash shortly after National’s 2002 election defeat. English replaced the abrasive Gerry Brownlee, who got out of the way.

Both Key and English are social conservatives, and both voted against the first reading of
New Zealand’s Civil Unions bill, something even former leader Don Brash voted to support. The first reading sends the bill to committee where the public can have its say, so in some ways it’s just allowing the bill to get to the point where it can be properly debated. That Key and English opposed a move that Brash supported suggests that they may have a narrower view of New Zealand than Brash did.

The fact is, we just don’t know. Key’s too new to politics to get any sense of where his thinking lies, though Nicky Hager’s book Hollow Men (which is selling well, now the injunction is gone) is said to suggest he was in the thick of accepting secret Exclusive Brethren support for National’s failed 2005 election campaign. Bill English is generally a pragmatist, and it’s difficult to imagine him encouraging a sharp lurch to the right for National.

We’ll see if National finally forms a coherent vision of where it wants to take
New Zealand. The next election is in 2008, which is plenty of time for them to get their act together—or to change leaders again. Time will tell which it is.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sticking it to military recruiters

An article on antiwar.com (located through blogsnow.com) tells how two high school students sought to subvert the ASVAB tests.

For my New Zealand friends, “ASVAB” stands for “Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery” and it’s a multiple-guess test given to high school students to make it easier for US military recruiters to put the hard-sell on students finishing high school. When I was in high school, we were told it was mandatory, though there’s some question about this. I seem to recall that in my day it was also boys only.

I hated not just the test but also the very idea of the thing. I was no screaming radical in high school—in fact, I was a Republican. But I felt very strongly that the military had no right to compel students to take a test that would be used to try to cajole, coerce or hoodwink high school students into joining the military (there was no war or even draft registration back then). Let them offer it as an option, I said, but nothing more.

So I took the stupid test, and—with the little bit of competitiveness that I possess—I actually made a reasonable effort to do well. What did I get for my trouble? Dozens of phone calls from recruiters trying to convince me to come in for “a little talk” (it got so bad that I very nearly was driven to tell them to get lost—I didn’t swear much in those days).

I also got months of military recruitment propaganda mailed to my house several times a week, as if I’d suddenly think, “Gee, I’ll give up a university education and go enlist because of all these pretty brochures I keep getting in the mail.” Yeah, right.

It all went away after I went away (to the university I was headed toward in the first place). But the resentment never did. I wish I’d had the ability and courage of the two students in the antiwar.com article, but I didn’t.

One thing the article told me that I didn’t know was that Bush’s failed “No Child Left Behind” programme gives military recruiters unhindered access to student records. Add it to the way too long list of reasons why I can’t wait until this pResident is finally out of the White House.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Another Housekeeping Note

I've now completed the upgrade to the new Blogger, and, as you can see, I picked a new template to use. Hopefully, this will be easier to read than the old one was—it's certainly easier to modify. Let me know how you find it—better, worse, or don't really give a f—, well, you get the idea.

I've also rearranged my links and added some new ones, so feel free to check them out. Nothing there is naughty (apart from some of the language, maybe, in some podcasts), some links are political, often of the centre/left variety, all of which is pretty much what will be popping up there from now on.

That's all I'm doing to the site for now (I think...)

Faux News

Middle America again reared up at the media this past week, angered by Rupert Murdoch’s plans to televise and publish O.J. Simpson telling how he would have killed his wife and Ron Goldman “if” he had done it.

Rupert cancelled the project and apologised for it. My friend Jason put it well when he said, “What they’re sorry about is the money they won’t be making.”

Rupert isn’t exactly an altruist on media matters. An excellent commentary by Peter Whitby, former editor of the New Statesman and Independent on Sunday, was published by the Guardian. He says:

“Murdoch is an object lesson in the dangers of concentrated cross-border power. Such power is always problematic because it is apt to reduce diversity, squeeze out the regional and local, and stifle dissent. When it occurs in the information industry, it threatens democracy.”

I couldn’t agree more (and thanks to the Evil European for putting up the link). Murdoch’s rabidly right wing Fox News clouds
America’s political debate, and we in New Zealand are exposed to his channel, too, carried overnight by Prime (which Murdoch owns through his control of Sky Television).

Recently, Rupert bought a 7.5% stake in
Australia’s Fairfax Media to block attempts to take it over, he said. So he again owns a piece of New Zealand’s largest newspaper publishing company, which only a few years ago bought the publishing interests of Murdoch’s former company, INL, including newspapers Dominion-Post, Christchurch Press, Sunday Star-Times, Sunday News, NZ Truth and several magazines including TV Guide.

In the case of the O.J. Simpson debacle, Rupert seemed to cave to public opinion, but Rupert’s attention is always focused solely on profit. In 1999, he cancelled publication of Chris Patten’s East and West: The Last Governor of
Hong Kong on Power, Freedom and the Future because it angered China, with whom Rupert was desperate to do business. In both cases, protecting profits was the only consideration.

I think that
Whitby is right, and Rupert does threaten democracy. But just maybe the public revulsion over the O.J. fiasco could provide an example of the way to control him in the future: Using the power of democracy to harness him—while we still can.

Housekeeping note

I just moved this blog to the new version of Blogger, so if anything doesn’t seem to work correctly, let me know.

The new version makes it easier to add tags, which I’m going to try using (I’m sick of the old way). So bear with me as I get used to the new system.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Good Riddance to Brash rubbish

It will come as no surprise when I say that I’m glad Don Brash is stepping down as leader of the conservative NZ National Party. His tenure has been divisive and polarising and the country will be better off now that he can’t be Prime Minister.

However, what’s been even worse the past couple days is the insufferable sycophantic “journalism” surrounding this story: Reporters saying what a “gentleman” he is, and suggesting how he was too “nice” for politics.

What a load of rubbish.

The man lied—he claimed he never met the Exclusive Brethren when in fact, he did. Now both he and other National Party leaders said they had no idea that the EBs were going to spend a million plus on a campaign to get National elected by attacking Labour and the Greens. They just don’t get it: People think they’re lying. Even if they’re telling the truth, it should serve as a warning to them that people believe National is capable of such deceit and underhanded tactics.

Tonight on TVNZ’s “Close Up” programme, Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee and ex-MP Richard Prebble had a jolly old time talking about how Nicky Hager’s book is supposedly just fantasy material. This line is common on the right—the same people who were quick to use Hager when he wrote a book critical of Labour, so apparently Hager is credible only if attacking Labour.

The gruesome twosome were so jolly tonight in part because of the jovial hosting by Susan Wood. Fresh on the heals of last night’s fawning love fest with Don Brash (you can watch the video clip here and judge for yourself), Wood was so transparently pro-National that it was surprising that she wasn’t wearing a National Party logo on her outfit. This isn’t the first time she’s cooed and smiled at Don Brash, but hopefully this was the last.

Black Friday: Fun with globalisation

In America, the day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday” because it’s the day when retailers are in black ink—they’re finally making a profit. I always heard how the day was the biggest shopping day in America (the day after Christmas—Boxing Day in this part of the world—is the second busiest). However, I don’t ever remember hearing the day called “Black Friday” until after I moved to New Zealand.

What makes this even weirder to me is that in New Zealand “Black Friday” refers to any Friday the 13th—an unlucky day. This is the meaning that I think of whenever I hear the phrase.

In preparation for the holiday shopping season, America’s Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the largest gay and lesbian political organisation in the US, released its guide, Buying for Equality 2007 (thanks to
Adam at This Boy Elroy for mentioning this, or I would have missed it). The guide lists companies according to their rating on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies on things like domestic partner benefits and gay and transgender inclusion in non-discrimination policies.

The guide lists not only the companies, but also the products they sell. Some companies do quite well; others don’t. Here in
New Zealand, where fundamental human rights and same-sex relationships are protected by law, the policies of American companies may seem irrelevant. After all, even a homophobic US company would have to obey NZ law if it were to operate here.

However, thanks to globalisation, companies now reach across the globe. Which means that if we here in New Zealand buy a product from an American company, we indirectly support their policies in America. Some of these companies have absolutely despicable practices.

Like Exxon/Mobil, for example. As the HRC guide explains it:

“Sexual orientation was taken out of the Exxon Mobil non-discrimination policy following Mobil's merger with Exxon; Domestic partner benefits were ended following Mobil's merger with Exxon. Mobil employees who already had DP benefits were allowed to keep them, but no other employees could join after the merger.”

So here’s a thought: Trans-national corporations push “free trade” so they can sell their products without local interference. What if we use globalisation to our advantage? What if we put pressure on the local affiliates of bad American companies? The companies may change or, more likely, they’ll ignore us. But even if they ignore us, we still have the satisfaction of not giving our money to bigots.

So, I won’t buy from Mobil until they change their policies and restore what they used to offer. In
New Zealand, the owners of BP, Caltex and Shell all received a 100 percent rating from HRC; those are the companies I’ll choose.

It’s not always easy to do things to change the world or even a little piece of it. But there are some things, like avoiding Mobil, that are easy to do. We can help to change things, one dollar at a time.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Downunder

I’ve often said how for the most part day to day life in New Zealand isn’t any different for me than if I were in America. There is, however, one thing that does make me aware that I’m living somewhere other than my homeland: Holidays.

I don’t mean any and every holiday, but specifically American ones. Even after more than a decade in New Zealand, it still feels strange to have Fourth of July in winter (for that matter, it feels weird to have a summer Christmas, too, but had I lived elsewhere in America, a Christmas that was at least warm wouldn’t seem as weird as it does to this born and bred Midwesterner).

Because the climate in this part of
New Zealand is mild all year long, my partner and I have had BBQs on the Fourth of July, though with more than a few Kiwi touches and additions. It makes for a nice excuse for a winter get-together.

Thanksgiving is another thing altogether.

The media in
New Zealand have talked about Thanksgiving and explained its current significance to Americans, and I think they pretty much are right on the money. Thanksgiving, they explain, is more important to Americans than Christmas or any other holiday because it’s the time when people are more likely to travel—to visit their relatives by birth or partnering, or to be with friends.

Millions of turkeys will be roasted in
America, and once again the company that makes Butterball brand turkeys is running its “Turkey Talk-Line” to help people with their turkey cooking crises. It’s kind of amazing to think that there would be any need for a call centre devoted just to telling people how to cook a turkey.

When you live this far from
America, travelling for a holiday, even if it’s a four-day weekend, isn’t possible. So, you make do.

One year my partner and I went to Denny’s because, being an American chain, they had a reasonable diner-style turkey meal. Other years, I’ve made a Thanksgiving meal. Sometimes I had to approximate some things, but in this era of globalisation, most ingredients of the meal are readily available (apart from tinned “solid pack” pumpkin—I’ve never successfully made a pumpkin pie in NZ, once failing miserably trying to make one from fresh squash).

This year, a bit on the spur of the moment I decided to roast a turkey roll and some veggies and such. It’ll have some of the traditional ingredients, and some that are near enough (like kumara instead of sweet potato). The sister-in-law and her daughter will join my partner and me.

But it’s quite warm today, not like a “traditional” Thanksgiving at all. I can live with that.

A lot of Kiwis are fascinated by this American tradition, far more so than any other (like Halloween). On Monday, the “Good Morning” programme on TVNZ had the American Ambassador to
New Zealand, William McCormick, and his wife Gail present their recipes for stuffing and roasting the turkey. It’s the second time the Ambassador has been on the show to cook (he’s a millionaire from the restaurant industry). I think he came across as very down-to-earth and friendly; he did us Americans proud, in other words (they’re lucky their appearance was on Monday; the next day a strike at TVNZ’s Wellington studio forced the show off the air).

So even on this side of the world there are some connections to the most American of holidays. It’s kind of nice.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bits and Pieces from America

A few items in the US news that I can’t let pass without mentioning:

Here we go again

According to a Reuters report, the Bush White House angrily dismissed a draft CIA assessment of Iran’s nuclear programme that claimed “the CIA found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency."

According to the article, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the assessment was another "error-filled piece.” It went on to quote her saying, “The White House is not going to dignify the work of an author…whose articles consistently rely on outright falsehoods to justify his own radical views.” Hang on a minute—is she talking about the assessment author or Bush? I’m confused, because it could clearly be either one.

Truth is now “top secret”

In an editorial, the Washington Post brilliantly attacks the Bush Administration for claming that a prisoner held and tortured by the CIA can’t talk about his treatment because it was “top secret”. So, not only were these people held in secret CIA prisons without charge or recourse to any legal system, and not only were they tortured, they are forbidden to talk about any of it.

Bush and the Republicans went farther, removing civilian federal courts’ jurisdiction over detainees at
Guantanamo and the secret CIA prison system. All of which means that Bush & Co can do whatever they want and can’t be held accountable for any of it. Ah, democracy in action.

The Blue Dog Lie

One of the myths of the 2006 US election is that the victory was won by “Blue Dog Democrats,” a coalition of “centrist” Democrats, most of whom are, in fact, much farther to the right than they are anywhere near the centre.

The Daily Kos does a great job exploding the myth that right wing, “centrist” and Southern Democrats were solely responsible for the Democrats taking control of the US Congress. The actual results point to a strong future for progressive Democrats by focusing on existing coastal strongholds and swing Midwestern areas.

The breast that attacked

Remember the golden days of 2004, when the most important thing in
America was a 1/16 of one second flash of Janet Jackson’s breast? The FCC, America’s broadcast censor, fined broadcaster CBS US$550,000 for the famous “wardrobe malfunction”, and now CBS is appealing the fine.

It wasn’t indecent, CBS says, because it was “unscripted, unauthorized and unintended”. They also claim that Jackson and Justin Timberlake “independently and clandestinely devised the finale”. Oh, no! What else were they plotting, apart from the wholesale destruction of
America and its vulnerable morality?

The way
America went apoplectic over something so utterly stupid and unimportant speaks volumes about what’s wrong with American culture. Still, it’s probably just human nature to go after the easy things and ignore the difficult ones. Maybe that’s why Bush & Co have gotten away with so much for so long.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Don Brash is a coward

Don Brash, the leader of NZ’s main conservative party, the National Party, is a coward. He may be a liar, too, which we hope to know in the fullness of time, but we know he’s definitely a coward.

How do we know? He and his National Party cohorts have gone to court to block publication of “The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception” by Nicky Hager. The book is said to detail the extent to which National Party policy has been dictated by others, and how the National Party has courted support and advice from the
US evangelical far right.

Not that we’d know for sure. The day the book was to be released, National won an injunction to stop it. The timing was purely coincidental, if you believe Don Brash on TVNZ’s Close Up programme tonight. Of course it was.

More worrying still is the allegation that a reporter, who has a noticeable pro-National bias at the best of times, leaked information on the book’s publication to National so that they’d have time to seek an injunction. If true, that’s downright sleazy.

Brash claims he’d like the book released, but no sane person could believe that when Brash and National worked to suppress the book. Prime Minister Helen Clark called one of Hager’s books attacking Labour a work of fiction—but that was after it was published. Labour never tried to suppress a book as National has done.

Brash and his National Party cohorts are running scared. That’s the only logical explanation as to why they’re so afraid to allow the book to be published. Since we’re not allowed to read the book and judge it for ourselves, we must assume there’s a lot of damaging dirt on National, stuff so bad that it could mean National won’t even have enough seats to be the main party of opposition after the next election.

National, if you’re serious that the book is rubbish, let it be released. We’re grown ups, thank you very much, and we can decide for ourselves. Or don’t you have any faith in democracy?

For more on this, check out these stories (Note: These links expire quickly, so they may be dead in a day or two):

Hager outlines contents of Brash emails book

National refuses to lift email injunction

Update 23/11/06: Don Brash resigned as Leader of the National Party today. His succesor will be chosen at a special caucus meeting on Monday.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sydney Photos

I took this photo yesterday morning, our last in Sydney. It's just my sense of humour, I suppose, by it struck me as funny to take a photo at a major tourist spot of people taking photos at a major tourist spot. Clicking on it makes the photo bigger.

I uploaded my Sydney holiday snaps to Flicr. There aren't that many of them, since I was only there for a few days, but check them out anyway. Click here to go to my Sydney photo album. I'll have a few words to say about Sydney and Australia soon. In the meantime, I made the postcard above just for you.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back Home Again

We're back home now. It was a really good trip, but the details and photos will have to wait. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Off to Sydney

I’m off to Sydney today for the weekend. My partner’s already there at a conference which ends tomorrow. So, we thought we may as well make a weekend out of it.

Speaking of accents, as I was yesterday, the city is “SEED-nee” to many Aussies. They have an accent that’s very different from both Kiwis and Americans, though sometimes similar to either.

I’ll post some photos on Flicr next week. In the meantime, there won’t be any posts until Sunday night (NZ time) at the earliest.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thuh Nyew Zuhlund Iksint

In an earlier post, I said how I’m the one with an accent in New Zealand, and that’s obvious: I wasn’t born here, so whatever I say is with an accent. That’s not affected by how long I’m here—I’ll always pronounce some words differently.

I was asked recently if when I first came here I thought the NZ accent sounded English. Coming as it did in a discussion of the British soap “
Coronation Street,” which I can barely understand at the best of times, it was a sort of leading question.

The short answer is that when I first arrived, the NZ accent did sound somewhat “English” to me, but since I’d been to Britain (sniff, twice, actually, sniff), I knew it didn’t sound all that English except, maybe, as compared to Australians who have an accent all their own.

I had no trouble understanding New Zealand English, except for a few things. Chief among them, the letter “R” is routinely suppressed to an extent that it’s almost inaudible—almost, because if you listen closely, it is there. One weekend, still relatively new to NZ, my partner took a Ford Ka for a drive. He came home and told me about it, and I asked, “yes, but kind of car was it?” He answered, “It was a Ka”. In those early days I couldn’t hear the difference between “Ka” and “car”, so the exchange was a bit of an Abbott & Costello “Who’s on first” thing.

Those days have passed, and apart from the odd bit of slang, NZ English seldom surprises me anymore. I can even get the joke when people make fund of NZ accents, as I did in the heading for this post (and it’s an exaggeration, by the way, a parody).

The truth is, after eleven years many American accents sound as foreign to me as the NZ accent once did and as the Aussie accent still does.

I could be profound and say that the lesson in this is that if we listen to other cultures, they won’t seem so foreign. To be honest, all I cared about was that I could go to a store an actually buy what I was after, or figure out how to use a bus, or any number of other things that make daily life possible. But, then, maybe that’s the essence of understanding.

AmeriNZ is Number One!

This will surprise some, but AmeriNZ was recently ranked number one. No, really. Naturally, that doesn’t mean what it sounds like (though by saying it like that I could be headed for a career in PR).

I recently Googled AmeriNZ (don’t give me that look—most people Google their own names every now and then; I was looking to see if my blog or its contents were mentioned anywhere other than in other blogs). One of the hits was for BlogsNow, which ranks what’s popular on blogs worldwide by tracking, essentially, what blogs link to. It’s currently tracking more than 10 million blogs.

A couple weeks back, there was the article about the cost of failing to act on climate change. I posted a blog entry on the article and linked back to it. 27 others did, too, but out of 9,738,413 blogs tracked at the time, AmeriNZ was the first in the world to put up a post. The main reason, of course, is our time zone—I had half a day on
Europe, more on America.

I’m a little sceptical about all this, I have to admit, because a few days later AmeriNZ was ranked fifth (again, based on time of posting) among 14 blogs that linked to the Matthew Gross article on Republican voter suppression efforts. I’m pretty sure there are a couple blogs linked to that article that aren’t included in the list.

Even so, what are the odds of being first in the world at anything? I choose to enjoy it whatever its worth.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Talking About New Zealand

Everyone is talking about New Zealand....

Okay, maybe they're not, but around 1000 blog posts a day or so mention New Zealand, according to Technorati. I've added a chart on the right side of this blog to show how many posts per day over a 30-day period mention New Zealand.

Why? Well, I suppose because I can, but also because this blog is partly about New Zealand, so it makes sense to include the chart. Technorati provides a link so bloggers can easily add a chart for subjects that interest them (how thoughtful).

Of course, now that I’ve mentioned New Zealand again, this post, too will end up included on that chart. Is that making the news and reporting it?

New Zealand is Gored

Former US Vice President Al Gore was in New Zealand today to speak to an invitation-only crowd of 250 business people and politicians. The speech, titled “Earth in the Balance Sheet” was closed to the media.

That struck me as odd, partly because Gore is in this part of the world to promote his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. You’d think he’d want the publicity and would want the speech open to the media, if not the public.

Even so, apparently Gore likes us. While media reports said he feels nations need to do more to combat climate change, he was also reported to have said “I'm particularly impressed with the tremendous leadership that
New Zealand is providing.” Aw, shucks.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Political non-allegiance

I got into a discussion on the future of the US Democratic Party over at The Gay Expat’s site. I’ve talked about that in this blog and elsewhere, too, since I’m passionate about it.

In my last post, I mentioned campaigning for Gerald Ford, and said I left the Republican Party four years later. In changing parties, I declared independence from parties as such. In US elections, I’m a Democrat. In
New Zealand I’m a Labourite. In both cases, my support is contingent on the party backing issues I care about. If they don’t or, even worse, turn their back on those issues, I’ll then turn my back on those parties.

However, I can’t see either happening any time soon. Democrats, as lacking spines as they are, still maintain a huge advantage over Republicans by being connected to rationality. The same is true for the NZ Labour Party versus the NZ National Party, but in NZ the contrasts between the two main parties isn’t nearly as great—not even close. In NZ, there are also other choices.

So, parties have to work to keep my support. As long as they don’t abandon key principles, there’s no problem. If they do, I’ll simply move on.

The better Ford in the news

Gerald Ford (pictured in his official portait from 1974) became the longest living ex-US president on Sunday when he hit 93 years, 121 days old. So far, he’s beaten the next-oldest, Ronald Reagan (who died in 2004) by one day. The next-oldest was John Adams, the second US president, who died on July 4, 1826, aged 91.

It’s the second time Ford beat Reagan: In 1976, Ford won the Republican presidential nomination, keeping Reagan away for four more years. Jimmy Carter beat Ford in the general election that year.

I was a “home campaigner” for Ford back in ’76, even though I wasn’t old enough to vote. I can still remember the last two lines of Ford’s campaign jingle: “I’m feelin’ good about
America/I’m feelin’ good about me.” (That's just so 1970s, don't you think?)

I backed Ford because even then I was appalled at the Reaganites and their planned takeover of the Republican Party, carrying far-right Christian activists into positions of power, though they were largely kept out of sight during Reagan’s campaign for the 1976 Republican nomination. I also didn’t trust Jimmy Carter’s Southern Baptist roots.

As it happens, four years later I left the Republican Party after its lurch to the right, so I’ve never voted for a Republican for president.

Gerald Ford wasn’t perfect; even then there were things I criticised. But that was thirty years ago, and times—and Republicans—were different. I’d still pick Ford over Reagan any day. But I honestly don’t know if I’d still back him over Carter. I certainly like Carter much more now than I did then.

So I remember Gerald Ford and 1976 with some affectionate nostalgia. 1976 was the last year before politics changed forever for me. Reality is always harsher than such memories, I know, but I choose to keep them anyway.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Season’s Bleatings

The media have reported that Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer, along with others such as Kohl’s and Macy’s, will be using the word “Christmas” rather than generic alternatives to describe their annual December shopping promotions. It was reported that the change was made after “religious groups” had criticized Wal-Mart and others that had stopped using the word “Christmas”. Some even staged boycotts.

“We learned a lesson from that,” a Wal-Mart spokesperson is quoted as saying.

Really? And what lesson is that? That the best policy is to cave into extremist religious activists?

What the “religious groups” are saying, basically, is that using Jesus to sell socks, perfume or whatever as Christmas gifts is a good, religious thing to do. Making money, it would seem is a holy. So is debt to pay for those gifts.

And what of other religious groups that believe Christmas is a commercialised frenzy of consumerism having nothing to do with the essential Christian message? Sorry folks, “make money” must be the unwritten eleventh commandment, or maybe Jesus’ last words from the cross.

The fuss is really odd from a
New Zealand perspective. Here, where both the nation and the Christmas holiday are largely secular, no one takes any notice of whether retailers use the word “Christmas” or not. Many do, but a generic word could be used instead, for all the difference it’d make. Certainly no one would organise boycotts either way.

With everything going on in the world today, wouldn’t you think that the time of those “religious groups” would be better spent living up to the spirit of Christmas rather than worrying about whether the word is used to sell more junk?


Most of the time, my life in New Zealand is as ordinary as it would be nearly anywhere else. Sometimes, though, life here collides with life in America and the result is a kind of disconnect that can sometimes be surreal.

A perfect example is having a Fourth of July BBQ in the middle of winter, as my partner and I have done. Okay, so we don’t have frost or snow in this part of
New Zealand, and our daytime winter temperatures would make for a nice autumn or spring day in Chicago, but when you consider that it really is winter, and that Kiwis don’t have the same foods at their BBQs as Americans do, it starts to drift into “surreality”.

American elections are another thing like that. US elections are, in general, a mere curiosity to New Zealanders. That shouldn’t be a surprise to Americans; how many of them watch British or French election results or even Canadian results (Shame on you, by the way—you should know what
America’s northern neighbour is up to).

So, it’s weird sitting watching US election results all day on CNN International, while New Zealand’s day goes on outside. I’m used to it now, having gone through five
US elections before this last one. The next day it was back to ordinary life for me, too.

And that means it’s time to move on to other subjects—until the politicians misbehave, as someone, somewhere inevitably will. It’s what they’re good at.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The responsibility

Now that the US elections are over, the real work begins.

Rahm Emanuel, who engineered many of the Democratic victories in the US House, has tried to start shoving liberal Democrats to the back of the bus (a tip o’ the hat to The Gay Expat for posting this link). Rahm’s focus is, apparently, Democratic bums on seats, no matter how right wing their ideology. Ultimately, it’s a bonehead strategy, little better than the Republicans’ focus on keeping power at all costs. Will Rahm become the new Rove?

Instead, Democrats need to offer America a real alternative. Frame the issues in language that speaks directly to American voters and then, surprise! even liberals will be elected in rural and southern districts.

We know this works because the Republicans have done it for their right wing extremists for years, and with huge success since 2000. Sure, they peddled hate, division and lies, but they framed their issues in ways that mainstream voters bought into. If liberals don’t learn to do the same, Rahm will get his way and America won’t see any real change, except in the name of the ruling party.

What do you think? Is electing any Democrat the only thing that matters? Or should we focus on electing Democrats who aren’t just like Republicans?


This awesome YouTube video was released just before the US election and has been watched more than 167,000 times to date. Watch it and you'll see why.

Addendum: I got a bit sidetracked when I originally posted this (it took me awhile to figure out how to tweak the html to put a YouTube video on Blogger), and so I forgot to say I originally found it at The Jimmi Chronicles.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A New Birth of Freedom?

I looked on the internet today to check reaction to the American election among bloggers and podcasters. I certainly didn’t make any kind of exhaustive survey because I don’t look at right wing stuff. Big surprise, I know.

The reaction is pretty much universally positive, tinged with a healthy dose of realism, maybe, but positive nevertheless. I think the general feeling is, to quote Gerald Ford from 1974, “our long national nightmare is over.”

One of my favourite podcasters, Adam at This Boy Elroy, posted a great podcast on the election results. In it, he says “for the first time in six years I have so much optimism and hope for this country.” But he also points out that we “need to be more outspoken than when we were the underdogs.”

I absolutely agree. Still, as Adam points out, there’s plenty of reason to feel excited today.

Sure, we all know that this new Congress isn’t perfect, and Bush/Cheney still occupy the White House, but let’s look at what we do have: Rumsfeld is gone. Let’s savour that one: Rumsfeld is gone! Rick Santorum is gone, Arizona voters rejected bigotry, South Dakota didn’t play the christo-fascists’ game on abortion, Karl Rove was taken down a few pegs, and Nancy Pelosi will likely become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the US House.

There are plenty of things to work on, and in some ways the work will be even more important now because it has a chance of succeeding.

So bloggers and podcasters: Keep up the pressure and the scrutiny, keep talking about the ways to make American better. It’s what we can all do to counter right-wing propaganda, and it’s something that the corporate media can’t control.

The Morning After

There is change in the air this morning, and things will be different in America. While those who favour a liberal or progressive agenda will be disappointed, it's nevertheless a very good morning.

The Democrats took the US House of Representatives by an encouragingly big margin. They took the US Senate by a much closer margin, but they still took it. Together, that gives the Democrats the opportunity to exercise oversight over the Bush Administration. The US Constitution requires Congress to do that, but Republicans simply refused.

At his press conference this morning, Bush accepted he and the Republicans had received a “thumpin’”. Dismissing the strident attacks on him during the campaign, he also said he’d been in a lot of rodeos (as the clown, he meant to say?), and he knew not to take it personally. What choice does he have? He’s out in two years, so it’s cooperate or be irrelevant.

One of the greatest changes so far is that Donald Rumsfeld is toast. Never has there been a more arrogant, self-righteous or incompetent Secretary of Defense. Eventually, he came to epitomise everything that was wrong about
America’s war on and occupation of Iraq.

The main reason he had to go was that Democrats now controlling Congress would have investigated him, and that would have led to investigations of others in the Bush administration, likely leading to criminal charges against some of them. So, Rumsfeld fell on his sword.

There’s still opportunity for mischief. If the Virginia Senate seat suddenly switches to the Republican through a recount, we’ll know something untoward is happening. No, I’ll be more direct: We’ll know there was corruption at work.

Corruption was, in fact, one of the main issues in the election, according to exit polls. So it’s not surprising that more evidence of Republican intimidation of Democratic voters is being documented. My guess is that when the dust settles, some Republicans will go to prison because of their efforts at voter intimidation and suppression.

A dark stain on
America was the adoption of anti-gay marriage referenda in seven of the eight states that had them on the ballot. Arizona was the only state to reject a ballot measure, which would not only have defined marriage as being one-man/one-woman, but which also would have forbidden civil unions and domestic partnerships. There was some hope, however, in that the margin of approval in the other seven states was clearly narrower than in previous referenda.

It seems evident to me that the Republicans probably did a reasonably good job getting most of their voters to vote. The difference this time was that—for a change—Democrats and independents actually voted. Had they voted in 2000, 2002 or 2004, things never would have become so bad, but better late than never, I suppose.

The Democratic victories yesterday don’t mean that
America has suddenly lurched to the left. Many of the Democrats newly elected to Congress are as conservative on social issues as the Republicans they replaced. The challenge for the left will be to work with these “new Democrats” because they are likely to become dominant in the years ahead.

All in all, the elections produced the results that
America needed. The US Congress was pulled back to the centre of the political spectrum and may, for the first time since Bush was appointed president in 2000, finally exercise their Constitutional duties of oversight.

We’ll be watching.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Ted Haggard meant to say

My partner had some time on his hands, and decided to use it creatively. Like a lot of people, he was worked up over the Ted Haggard’s hypocrisy, so he added edits to the letter read out to Haggard's former church. The new version is the way it should have been read.

It starts with “Haggard” saying (added text is in red) “I am so sorry I got caught”. Later, when Haggard asks the letter’s listeners to forgive his accuser, the new “Haggard” says, “So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him I did every time we hooked up.” You can check out the letters here (the three pages are separate JPEGs; I have a PDF version containing all three pages, but you have to contact me for that).

Haggard may be gone, but his power to entertain continues. Even
Canada’s Slap Upside the Head gets in on the fun. The more the merrier, I say.

The source of irritation

It’s easy to think that US Republicans or America’s current ruling junta are my main sources of irritation. Okay, maybe that’s true, but at the moment my main physical irritant is Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), pictured above, which is in full flower.

Privet was introduced as a hedge plant and escaped to become established in much of the country (this is a repeating story in NZ, and a subject in its own right). It’s now considered a pest plant, meaning that it’s illegal to sell, propagate or even move the plant in most areas, though it’s not compulsory for land owners to remove it. Contrast that with noxious plants that normally do have to be removed because they spread so quickly.

The main problem with privet is its spring flowering season (now). It’s strongly scented and its pollen is an irritant to many people, like me. It’s also known to cause problems for asthmatics. For me, it just irritates my sinuses, not blocking them as much as making them feel burning. It gives me headaches. All of which can make me feel irritated and grumpy. I hate the thing.

The privet plants nearest to our house are pretty big—as big as a single car garage—so if the land owners removed them it would leave a pretty big hole in their landscaping (there’s no privet on our property, of course). So, for a few weeks each year I have to just endure it.

So, while the Republicans irritate me morally, intellectually, spiritually, existentially and a few other words ending in “-ly” that I can’t think of at the moment, it’s privet that’s making me feel truly miserable. Hopefully, the Republicans won’t get the chance to do take over privet’s job after the
US election is over.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

New Zealand ranks as least corrupt

This year’s Transparency International survey puts New Zealand, Finland and Iceland tied for least corrupt nation. Last year, New Zealand was tied with Finland for second, with Iceland least corrupt.

According to news reports, the survey “defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain and measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians.”

Haiti was at the bottom of the list, slightly more corrupt than Myanmar and Iraq. The news report didn’t mention what the US’ ranking was, but last year it was 17th.

Update 8/11/06: Thanks to Lost in France, I now know the US ranked 2oth (see comments), and I've added the link he provided to the actual chart.

Almost Through

In just about fifteen hours, polling places in America will start opening, which means that soon this election will be over, for better or worse. That’s good news for so many reasons, including the fact that I won’t be talking about American politics so much. Believe me, I’m as glad about that as anyone. I just hope that when I mention it in the future, it'll be positive. In around 36 hours, give or take, the answer to that question should be much clearer.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Republicans launch dirty tricks campaign

Reports have been coming in from Congressional Districts across America about a new scam being conducted by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The Republicans are using “robocalls” (automated, recorded campaign messages) to dial the same numbers over and over, and are designed to make the recipient think the calls are from Democrats.

It works like this: The calls begin with a message saying they have information from the local Democratic candidate (who they name), then there’s a pause for the person to hang up. If they don’t, the recipient gets a negative attack message. Only at the end is it revealed that the message is sponsored by the NRCC. If the recipient does hang up, then the robocall rings again and again in order to harass the recipient.

This is certainly illegal, at the very least because it rings people on the national “Do Not Call” list. But it probably violates other laws, too.

In 2002 Republicans jammed the phone lines of Democratic campaigns, making it impossible for them to use their phones for their get out the vote efforts. It appears that the Republicans haven’t run out of dirty tricks yet.

Make sure every American voter you know hears about this. If you have a blog, post about it and ping Technorati. If enough people do this, the mainstream media may pick up on the growing scandal.

Update 7/11/06:
Republican efforts to suppress Democratic votes are continuring right up to the wire. For more, check out this article on Virginia voter suppression efforts. This and other articles on Republican dirty tricks can be seen at The Daily Kos.

The Last Boom?

Last night was Guy Fawkes Night in New Zealand, a time when adults get all giggly as they watch their personal fireworks explode in colourful bangs, pops and whistles. I admit it: I just don’t get the attraction.

Guy Fawkes Night observes the anniversary of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of Catholics from the English Midlands tried to assassinate King James I and the Protestant aristocracy by blowing up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament.

The night is named after Guy Fawkes (pictured), the most famous co-conspirator,who was caught on November 5. After being tortured, Fawkes revealed the names of his co-conspirators. He was found guilty of treason, but at his execution he jumped from the gallows to snap his neck so that he wouldn’t be taken down still alive and drawn and quartered, as other conspirators had been. Nice, eh?

The night is now commemorated with fireworks, and sometimes bonfires are still lit on which an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned. Mostly, though, it’s now just an excuse to blow up some fireworks.

At a nearby park last night, children squealed with delight as skyrockets screamed into the sky and exploded. The entire neighbourhood was filled with the smell of gunpowder carried by smoke resembling a light fog. At the waterfront, Auckland looked like a war was going on—smoke hanging over the city, small explosions and pops going off everywhere.

Before 10pm, it was all over. Some morning reports said that the night was mayhem unleashed, others said it was relatively uneventful. The truth, as it always does, no doubt lies somewhere in between.

But the NZ Fire Service plans on continuing its push for a total ban on personal fireworks (they can now be sold to persons 14 years and older for the ten days prior to November 5). It’s a move backed by the SPCA, which says fireworks frighten animals.

My own guess is that sooner or later, fireworks will be banned, and people will complain about “political correctness gone mad” again. The day, with its strong anti-Catholic origins, clearly has no relevance to modern
New Zealand. Is that reason enough to ban it? Of course not. The end, when it comes, will be because of something mundane like fire danger.

But when personal fireworks are gone, will anyone have any reason to “remember, remember the fifth of November”?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

They Just Don’t Get It

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign focused on a simple phrase to take the White House from an unpopular Republican president named Bush: “It’s the economy, stupid.” In 2006, here’s a useful slogan for Republicans saddled with another unpopular Republican president named Bush: “It’s you, stupid.”

The Republicans just don’t seem to get the fact that they are at the very centre of what Americans are rejecting. Sure, Bush and Co got
America into the Iraq debacle based on lies and stupidity and without a clue how to get out, but it was the Republican Congress that failed to exercise any oversight. The Republican Congress gleefully went along when Bush gutted the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the Republican Congress helped Bush abolish habeas corpus.

So I thought it was a bit rich, and pathetic, to see Republican Congressional leaders in a desperate last-minute attempt to smear the Democrats.

Among them was House Majority Leader John Boehner who, according to the AP, told a right wing radio host: “If you want bigger government and higher taxes, vote for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. If you do want someone down on the border with open arms welcoming people across the border, vote for them. And, if you want to let the terrorists win in
Iraq, just vote for the Democrats.”

His comments share a common theme with other desperate Republican leaders. Here’s a translation in real English:

“Bigger Government:” The Democrats will exercise oversight over the Bush administration and stop its excesses, as the Republicans should have done. In fact, the Republican Congress made government much bigger, especially by making it easier for Bush to spy on law-abiding
US citizens without warrant or even a reason. Yet their government could do nothing for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“Higher taxes:” Megarich fat-cats who bankroll the Republican Party might have to pay their fair share. The Republican Congress swindled Americans by ensuring the rich got tax cuts while the middle and lower classes got only a hearty handshake.

“Nancy Pelosi:” Nancy Pelosi is from
San Francisco, which as all American know has a large gay population. To Republicans, the city is the symbol of everything they hate: Freedom, autonomy of the individual, care and concern for society and the environment and, oh yeah, gay people aren’t oppressed in San Francisco.

“Welcoming people across the border:” If the Republican Congress was serious about illegal immigration, they’d have cracked down on businesses that employ illegals, but that would have offended and hurt one of the party’s main bases of support.

“Terrorists in
Iraq:” This one is just too stupid to even acknowledge. Their desperation is most obvious in that silly statement.

The bottom line is that the Republicans are the problem. The solution is for every American voter to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for Democrats for Congress, holding their noses if necessary. Better that than more years of these Republican idiots.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sex and Money

What is it about right wingers and religious fundamentalists? Why are they so obsessed with sex? The rest of us get on with our day-to-day lives, working, shopping, sleeping, conversing, whatever, but it seems that right wingers spend every single moment thinking about sex.

Look at their campaigns against gay marriage, contraception, sex education and so on, waged as if there were no other issues to occupy a religious mind. The irony is that for America’s most visible far right leaders, and especially Christian ones, their undoing is always sex or money.

The latest example of this is Ted Haggard, who until yesterday led America’s right wing National Association of Evangelicals and his own supa church in Colorado. The Internet is abuzz with the story of how Haggard was brought down after a male prostitute, 49-year-old Mike Jones, claimed he’d had a three year sexual affair with Haggard.

Haggard admitted buying methamphetamine (called “P” in NZ), though he says he never used it. To me that sounds an awful lot like, “I never inhaled,” but I digress.

Haggard denied there was ever any sex, while admitting to having received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a hotel. Okay, then. A hotel referred a leading evangelist to a male prostitute, but not for sex. Who, exactly, is the stupid or naïve one here: Haggard, the hotel, or the public who are supposed to buy this explanation?

I wasn’t shocked or surprised to hear another evangelist was brought down in a sex scandal. America has had quite a few of them over the years. I was more surprised to find out there was such a thing as a 49 year old male prostitute, actually.

The larger point is that Haggard was a leader in the anti-gay marriage brigade. If Jones’ allegations are proved, it gives us a new word to describe Haggard: Hypocrite. Sadly, this isn’t unique, either among far right Christians or among Republican politicians generally.

This isn’t just an American thing, of course. Here in New Zealand, the leader of the conservative National Party (which is practically centre-left by US Republican standards…) opposed NZ’s Civil Union Bill and spoke in defence of traditional marriage, despite having recently committed adultery—for the second time. He wasn’t brought down, however, because NZ is more relaxed about sex than America appears to be, condoms from Hell notwithstanding.

The thing is, the sex-obsessed right wing is a tiny minority in New Zealand, while it appears to be at the centre of everything in America. And, in my opinion, that makes these hypocrites fair game for the news media, commentators and political opponents alike. I couldn’t care less what legal activity people do in their private lives, but when they set themselves up as leaders against what they themselves are doing, they deserve to be exposed as liars and frauds.

Even as we laugh as these morons, there is another, bigger question: If it’s common for people on the right to do one thing and say the opposite when it comes to sex, what else are they lying about?

The best result in next week’s US elections would be for a Democratic landslide so that investigations into Republican corruption can begin. Yes, I’m keenly aware that the Democrats have their share of hypocrites, too, but with one important difference: Not even the worst Democrat will talk about “freedom” and “democracy” while marching the country straight into fascism. Well, maybe Joe Liebermann would, but I don’t consider him a real Democrat.

So sex really is the problem in America. Maybe the Republicans don’t get enough of it, and that’s why they’re so obsessed with it. Maybe if they got it a little more they’d leave the rest of us, and the Constitution, alone.