Sunday, November 30, 2008

NZ Views: Paeroa hills

This weekend, we went to Paeroa (where we lived for a couple years) for a family birthday party. We stayed with Nigel’s Mum, and the Paeroa hills in this photo are visible from her house (by the way, I wasn’t being lazy: I left in the roofs and house to give a sense of perspective).

Anyway, the hills are one of the natural features of Paeroa, and form the backdrop as you’re driving into town from Auckland on State Highway 2. This particular part of the hills—with the rock outcroppings—is visible from several places in town, and it’s one of my favourite views. While we were living there, some bright sparks suggested that the hills have Hollywood sign-style white letters spelling “Paeroa” mounted on the hills. The idea never went anywhere, and while it probably wouldn’t have been in this particular spot, it shows you why few thought it was a very good idea.

There may well be gold in those hills, as neither Thames nor Waihi, and their gold mining history, are very far away. For now, though, the hills are farmed, mostly with sheep who can handle the steeper slopes, but also with some dairy cattle. I just think the hills are nice to look at.

Change for Canada?

It’s looking like the current Canadian government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party (pictured) may be about to fall. All three of Canada’s opposition parties—the New Democrats, Liberals and Bloc Québécois—have wanted a stimulus package to help Canada's economy. Now, two opposition parties (the Liberals and the NDP) are planning on asking Canada’s Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, for permission to form a new government.

The Liberals’ motion reads: "In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy … this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed."

While the economic situation is their main criticism of Harper’s government, apparently the spark was the Conservatives’ plan to cut public subsidies for political parties. Currently, parties get C$1.95 (about NZ$2.87, US$1.57) per vote for every vote they receive in the elections. This money is used for various running costs and is vital to smaller parties, though largely unneeded by the Conservatives, who have no trouble raising money.

Harper is leading a minority government, which continues only as long as the other parties don’t form a coalition, as they’re now proposing to do. Harper called an election, which was held last month, in an attempt to get a majority government for the Conservatives, but failed to do so.

Governor-General Michaëlle Jean is reportedly cutting short a trip to Europe to return home to Canada. Harper has set the next opposition day for December 8, at which time the no confidence motion will likely be voted on. In a little over a week, we should know if Harper can hold onto power.

Part of what’s interesting to me in all this is that after living in a Commonwealth country, I understand what’s going on in Canada. I hope that some of my fellow Americans now do, too.

A tip o’ the hat to my Canadian e-friend Mark for pointing me to the story.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A few words

Many years ago I was riding a bus in Chicago, scanning the advertising signs to both pass the time and to avoid looking at my fellow passengers, as CTA etiquette demanded. One sign sticks in my mind to this very day: “Words hit hard as a first,” it declared, pushing a campaign to get people to think about how their words affect children.

Political words have similar power—and consequences. In the US election, every time Sarah Palin attacked Barack Obama, threats against him skyrocketed. Whenever politicians attack “illegal immigration”, attacks on people of Hispanic descent increase. There are also plenty of cases in which GLBT people have been attacked after speech from some politician or preacher.

Why are people now so willing to “vent their spleens” (such an evocative phrase…) in extreme or, at least, absolutist language? While we expect to see that on fringe websites, we also see it in the comments to news stories on mainstream news media websites.

On the Internet no one is necessarily what or who they seem to be, so there’s no way to know if people are simply stirring up trouble and argument, or whether genuine people are expressing genuine beliefs. The two sides may even be impersonating each other to start fights.

In any case, we’ve become a coarser society as a result of all the loose, inflamed and unchecked language. I try and use terms precisely; for example, I use “christianist” to describe people who are Christian political activists (and for good measure, I add modifiers to make clear which end of the spectrum I’m talking about). Similarly, I try and use other terms—like “neoconservative” or “fascist” as basically technical terms, not as loose slander. I’m always re-thinking those usages and have modified them over the years.

I don’t want to attack simply for the sake of attacking, even when I’m provoked, but sometimes I can’t not say something. So, when I visit a site where the comments are a slanging match between the extremes, I don’t engage—I move on. I know that “words hit as hard as a fist” and, with rare exceptions, I won’t use words in that way. I wish we could find a way to make lunatics restrained themselves, too—and from what I’ve seen, that word is appropriate. I guess what I’m really saying is that I wish it wasn’t.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Thanksgiving is the only truly national holiday in America: It’s the one day that we—wherever we live—stop and celebrate with at least some of the traditions we were taught. Like a lot of gay folk (and bohemians generally), some of my fondest memories are of Thanksgivings spent with families of choice (especially Mr. G, who won’t be reading this).

This year, as in some previous years in New Zealand, I organised a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner. There were some key bits missing, because of time and other factors, but we still had a good time. Our niece, who was recently in America, joked about whether we all had to take turns reciting what we were thankful for. I replied that I could answer in one word: “Nigel”. Only, really, I wasn’t joking.

Obviously, I’m also thankful for my family and friends. My parents gave me life and so much more; I like to think that they made it possible for the best parts of me to flourish. But the rest of my family and friends, even when I wanted to throttle them, helped me to learn and grow, so I’m also thankful for them.

If we’re really, really lucky, we learn something from every experience we have and every person we meet. So if one day a year we stop and remember that, it’s got to be a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I also have posts about Thanksgiving last year and in 2006.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

But should I keep them?

Several years ago, I ordered something online from Dick Smith Electronics, and ever since then they’ve been sending me emails promoting their latest sales. Most of them I just glance at before deleting.

Today their marketing department sent me an email (parts pictured above and below). It gives me a perfect opportunity to point out something we gay and lesbian people have to put up with all the time: The automatic assumption that we’re heterosexual.

Clearly I wouldn’t be buying these products for a woman, so I certainly wouldn’t be expecting one to keep me around this summer or any other time. I’d bet that I’m not the only male who received this email who’s in that situation.

There’s also some pretty sexist language. The male can “play games for hours while she’s getting ready,” for example. It’s also a bit rich to imply that only a female would be a “Facebook fanatic”.

It’s all in keeping with the stores’ aura, which is pretty blokey. Not that they’re hostile or anything, it’s just that they’re not exactly the first place most gay folk would think of shopping. I’m sure that Dick Smith was trying to be funny and didn’t mean anything offensive and I’m definitely not offended. It’s just, would it really have killed them to come up with marketing emails that don’t make assumptions about who or what the recipient is? There are equally funny, inclusive ways these same products could have been promoted. And maybe that more inclusive approach might help gain them more sales to GLBT customers.

Because so many companies make the same assumptions, we gay people have to view all advertising with filters engaged: We screen out “heterosexist assumptions”, as it’s sometimes called, and look for information that’s relevant to us and our lives. This isn’t all bad—we can often detect bullshit a mile away—but it’s nice to sometimes see our lives reflected, too.

Having said all that, Dick Smith should get points for coming up with a way for guys to get away with buying tech toys for women. I won’t be among them, however.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More slanted news

I’m often a critic of the news media (just check out my media tag for many examples), and very often it’s for sloppy, lazy reporting that treats PR spin as legitimate news. Recently I saw an AFP story on Yahoo News entitled “US officials flunk test of Amerian[sic] history, economics, civics” (the title was later corrected). I was expecting a little chuckle, until I realised the joke was on readers of this story—and it’s a perfect example of media laziness.

The story detailed how poorly both elected officials and ordinary citizens did on a quiz offered by something called “Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI)”. Naturally, I wondered who this “ISI” was, and got suspicious when I read: “The question that received the fewest correct responses, just 16 percent, tested respondents' basic understanding of economic principles, asking why ‘free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government's centralized planning?’ Without some heavy-duty modifiers, the validity of that question is highly debatable and the “correct” answer highly suspect.

The article also included, unchallenged, the bizarre statement “Activities that dull Americans' civic knowledge include talking on the phone and watching movies or television—even news shows and documentaries, ISI said.” Say what? How on earth did they arrive at that absurd conclusion? The article didn’t say.

So I checked out ISI, and found that “ISI seeks to enhance the rising generation's knowledge of our nation's founding principles — limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, market economy, and moral norms.” “Moral norms”? And what might those be? “The values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition inform and guide a free society. Without such ordinances, society induces its decay by embracing a relativism that rejects an objective moral order.”

They’re clearly a right-wing group whose slant on American values I don’t share. Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less about them, their ideology or how highly they think of themselves. What concerns me is how much play this story got, almost invariably treated as legitimate news.

Some of their questions may be valid, like asking who the US’ enemies were in World War Two or what the Electoral College is for, but clearly their goal is to foster a conservative worldview, which makes the whole thing slanted. The article should’ve pointed out the conservative nature of ISI so that readers could better evaluate the validity of the quiz and decide for themselves whether any conclusions based on it were justified. I found out within a few minutes’ clicking. Why are journalists too lazy to do the same?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blogging School

I thought I’d take a break from normal posting today and share something useful instead. When I started blogging, I noticed that some people included basic text formatting in their comments. Later, I saw embedded, clickable links, where the commenter didn’t just paste the link as text. So, I decided to find out how to do those things, too. Since I had to go looking for the information, I thought I’d share it in case any of my readers wanted to know, too.

Since web pages are built on HTML coding, that means we can add HTML “tags”, or instructions for how text should appear, to comments. We can use these tags to make type appear bold, italic, bold italic, etc. However, it’s important to remember that not all blogging comments systems accept tags (Typepad is one that doesn’t seem to, for example). For those that do, here are some basic tags:

To use them, you type the tag you want, type the text you want formatted, then type the closing tag. It’s really that simple.

Now suppose you want to include a link to an article, a post on your own blog or a relevant website. First, it’s important to remember that including a link may make your comment look like spam to the blogging software, so keep it to one or two links. Second, not all commenting systems allow links (mostly because of spam problems).

For this example, we’ll assume links are allowed, and that we wanted to link to Google News in the comment. A tag like this would do it:

In this example, the phrase “the Google News page” would be the link. You can make the link say anything you want, but keep in mind that not all commenting systems make links obvious, so on those blogs you may want to use a phrase like “click here”. Also, whatever you type before that link won’t be part of the link. So, in this example, you could type: “For the latest news stories, you can go to” [here is where you place that link above]. What you’d end up with is this:

For the latest news stories, you can always go to the Google News page

Feeling like you want to be really advanced? How about adding a tag so the link will open in a new window or tab? Normally, if someone clicks on a link it’ll open in the same window/tab, replacing what they’re looking at, but by adding a little more code you can make it open in a new window/tab (depending on the browser the reader is using). So, using the same example, it would look like this:

Many blog comments systems don’t permit a target tag—Blogger doesn’t for example—and again the reason is because of spam. But if you use it on your own blog posts, you can make sure that the reader won’t accidentally leave your site just because they clicked on a link. That improves the chances that they’ll read more on your site. WordPress and other blogging software makes this really easy, but Blogger doesn’t: You have to edit the HTML for your post and enter the last part, target=_blank/", manually (space before the word "target"). This is what I did to the Google News link I have above (the one in the text, not one of the pictures).

So, that’s it—just a few things I learned and thought I’d share for others who don’t know them. Feel free to try them out in the comments to this post if you want, and have fun—that’s kind of the whole point of blogging, after all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Barack Obama will carry with him into the White House some of the highest expectations of any president, so much so that commentators have started warning us to relax and not expect everything to be solved at once. They’re doing this because they know that the higher the expectations, the more likely disappointment becomes.

Many GLBT Americans are saying that Obama must act quickly on his promises. Some have argued for yet another March on Washington, apparently to put pressure on both Obama and the more strongly Democratic Congress. But history provides us with an example of what could happen.

In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president and carried similar hopes and expectations of GLBT Americans. He’d campaigned on ending the military’s ban on GLBT servicemembers, and he’d said to us, “I have a vision of America, and you’re a part of it”.

Optimistic, activists organised a 1993 March on Washington and it was held some three months after Clinton was sworn in. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the Mall to demand GLBT equality. They had a supportive president and friends in Congress—a new era seemed at hand.

Instead, within a few months Clinton was forced into a backdown when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was made law. A few years later, we got the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act”. So, arguably, things for GLBT people were actually worse at the end of the Clinton Administration than they were at the beginning.

Obama seems determined to avoid repeating the Clinton experience, and the planned repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be delayed until at least 2010. 2009 would be spent building the base for Obama’s entire programme as well as consensus on this particular issue.

We can expect condemnation of this tactic by GLBT activists. Progressives will attack a number of aspects of Obama’s overall strategy, just as they’re sniping at possible members of his cabinet. Obviously, conservative journalists will be merciless in their criticism.

However, the majority of us closer to the centre should relax a bit. It’s far more important to change things for the better than to insist on speed and possibly lose it all—like I always say, “eyes on the prize”. We have another chance to move forward. This time, we can be part of a broad-based movement to improve the entire country, to move the nation forward for all of us.

We shouldn’t leave this to Obama alone, nor assume that Members of Congress will do the right thing, so we must keep the pressure on by lobbying Congress from all 50 states. So, let’s all take a deep breath and get to work turning our expectations into reality.

Nations under gods

One of the main arguments among far-right religionists (of any religious sub-belief, actually) is that they’re trying to protect people from the “wrath” of their god should their country fail to heed their personal prescription for rectitude. The consequence for failing to adopt their demanded righteousness is, at best, being forced to live in a dismal place or, at worst, to experience complete misery.

But as Phil Zuckerman points out at the Huffington Post, this simply isn’t true.

If you look at countries that are mostly secular and compare them with countries that are the most religious, you find that the secular states are more successful, have a higher standard of living and better social conditions (such as lower crime rate, better health, lower infant mortality and/or longer life) than do religious states.

Zuckerman points to Scandinavia in particular, among the first nations in the world to legalise abortion and same-sex marriages, and also with among the lowest church attendance levels. If far-right christianists were correct, these nations should be basket cases. Instead, “they lead the world on nearly all indicators of societal well-being.” Perhaps the real reason that Republicans are so condemning and dismissive of Scandinavian nations is that if people knew the truth about them, they’d realise they don’t need religion to be happy or have a good way of life.

What about the other side, religious countries? Zuckerman: “When we look at the most religious nations in the world—especially those that severely condemn homosexuality, such as Iran, Angola, and Mauritania—we see extreme poverty, high violent crime rates, oppression of women, dictatorship, warfare, corruption, etc.” Obviously being a religious country doesn’t make it a successful country, or one in which it’s good to live.

An apparent anomaly in this are communist dictatorships which, while being officially atheist, are also every bit as bleak as religious states. The lesson we can draw from all this evidence is that democratic countries that are secular are the best places to live, while authoritarian countries of any kind are the worst. As Zuckerman puts it:

There is no question that atheism coupled with totalitarianism is a veritable recipe for societal disaster. But as for democracies that forgo God—societies in which secularism is not forced upon a captive citizenry by dictators, but emerges organically and freely over several generations—the overall international pattern is unmistakable. It is the more godless democracies—and especially those that allow for gays and lesbians to wed—that are faring the best, while it is the more God-worshipping and homosexual-condemning nations that are faring the worst.

Amen to that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Legitimate freedom and equality

A few days ago, I wrote about how far-right christianists are trying to drive a wedge between the GLBT and African-American communities. It’s part of their script, along with saying that GLBT civil rights aren’t “real” civil rights, not like African-American civil rights. Almost without exception, the people pushing this line are white.

One example is Mike Huckabee.

Appearing on ABC (USA)’s The View, he praised the significance of the symbolism of the election of Barack Obama as president. Answering a question about GLBT rights, he said: "People who are homosexuals should have every right in terms of their civil rights, to be employed, to do anything they want. But that's not really the issue…”

After that, he brought in the far-right christianist rhetoric: “[W]hen we're talking about a redefinition of an institution, that's different than individual civil rights …” This is a constant talking point among far-right christianists, ignoring the fact that we’re not redefining marriage—we also see it as the union of two people who love each other and are committed to one another. All we’re doing is ensuring that the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage are available equally to all citizens.

Then Huckabee went further, declaring why GLBT civil rights aren’t real: “[H]ere is the difference: Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma bridge." So for Huckabee, apparently, a class of people is only entitled to full civil and human rights when the body count is high enough; when enough people have suffered severe enough violence in sufficient amounts, then Huckabee thinks they may be entitled to have some rights given to them by the majority.

Here’s the great truth they’re trying to hide: Civil and human rights are not theirs to give. Neither do they have to be earned—people are born with them. No one has the right to withhold this birthright from their fellow citizens just because they have some religious belief that teaches some people are more human than others.

Huckabee’s own brand of religion was built on the belief that African-Americans weren’t even human—they were mere property. Even after the Civil War, his religion continued to attempt to frustrate the achievement of civil and human rights for their former possessions and their descendants. How is their current intransigence any more permissible?

Obviously far-right christianists have a right to hold and teach their particular beliefs, but they have no right to force those beliefs on everyone else. Freedom demands many things of us all. Chief among them is that we recognise that all people are born equal and free. It doesn’t matter whether we like them or agree with them, freedom and equality exist regardless. It’s not given, it doesn’t have to be earned and it doesn’t require “redefining” any institution—it just exists. All that’s required is that we recognise that. The claims by people like Huckabee are what’s illegitimate and wrong, not freedom and equality nor the struggle to achieve them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Change you can diagram

“In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

“Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.


“According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it ‘alienating’ to have a president who speaks English as if it were his first language.”

The Huffington Post’s Andy Borowitz shares a humorous take on one of the biggest differences between the current president and the next one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Bush sleaze

I’ve written twice before about the Bush-Cheney regime rushing through last-minute rule changes in an attempt to cement-in their ideologically-driven policies. If they succeed, it’ll take three to six months (or much longer) for the Obama Administration to reverse the rules, due to procedural requirements dictated by law.

In July, I wrote about the regime’s attempts to expose workers to more toxic chemicals. Earlier this month, I wrote about how the regime is attempting to weaken regulations protecting consumers and the environment. Now, they’re trying to force a far-right religious agenda on healthcare providers.

The regulations that the Bush-Cheney regime are attempting to force through would exempt employees from providing any services related to abortion, birth control, contraception or sterilisation if doing so conflicts with their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Legal experts have concluded this would “overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion”.

The Bush-Cheney regime’s last minute rule changes are intended to create new hurdles for women seeking reproductive health services, like abortion and contraceptives. The rules would mean that poor women on Medicaid could be refused a prescription for contraceptives, even if there’s nowhere else to go to get the prescription filled.

This isn’t merely some “moral” issue, but also an employment one. As the Ohio Health Department noted, the rule “could force family planning providers to hire employees who may refuse to do their jobs”. To the Bush-Cheney regime, apparently, far-right christianist ideology trumps the rights of private employers.

What all of this means is that even once we’re finally rid of the Bush-Cheney regime, it may take some time to completely undo all the horrible damage they’ve done to America. After eight years of their occupation of America, we can probably wait a bit more to sweep aside the Bush-Cheney-Republican excesses. Apparently, even after soundly sweeping aside the Republicans, we have no choice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Key personnel

So far, I’ve been encouraged by the way John Key has been handling his government-in-formation, with the clear goal of keeping his Government squarely in the centre. Including the Maori Party is a perfect example, ensuring that neither ACT nor the right wing of his own party pulls his Government to the right. His new cabinet provides even more evidence.

Most of the media attention has gone to Paula Bennett, a former solo Mum on a benefit who will be minister for social development and employment, responsible for a $20 billion budget overseeing benefits. I’ve watched her on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme and have been impressed by her. She always seemed easygoing, competent, not grossly partisan and—perhaps most importantly—real. In other words, she’s not like run-of-the-mill politicians.

As a former beneficiary herself, Bennett understands what beneficiaries need, what works and what doesn’t. And she’s the very example of what National wants people to do: Move from a benefit to work to improve their lives. Wisely, she says that children must come first. I’d expect to see a much more humane dole-to-work scheme than we’ve seen from any previous National-led Government, and probably a more creative approach, too.

Other interesting moves included appointing Pansy Wong as Minister of Ethnic Affairs and Minister of Women’s Affairs, making her the first Asian-New Zealander in cabinet. Similarly, Chris Finlayson, as Attorney-General and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations minister, becomes National’s first out-gay cabinet minister (Chris Carter was Labour’s). Finlayson is National’s only out-gay MP, as far as I know, though there may be some closeted ones.

Many of the old guard who I don’t like have been relegated to low-level positions outside cabinet. However, Murray McCully, often described as “National's Machiavelli”, especially for his role in the 2005 campaign, is Foreign Affairs Minister, which to me seems a mistake. Some of the other cabinet members are MPs who I disliked when they were in Opposition, primarily for their shrill partisanship, but some of them may turn out to be good ministers.

So, on balance, it looks to be a pretty good cabinet, geared mostly to the centre of politics—where the voters are. Obviously there’ll be policies I’ll disagree with, but it’s great to not have to oppose nearly everything the party does, as I would have to with Republicans in the US, or even National of past years. That, too, is encouraging.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Devil in the details

The new National-led government will be sworn in on Wednesday, then, after he’s Prime Minister, John Key will head off to the APEC meeting and other foreign visits. We now know that due to the agreements with minor parties, National may have problems delivering on what it told the country it would—and wouldn’t—do.

The cost of support from the Maori Party has been pretty low for National: Instead of following long-held National Party policy to abolish the Maori seats in Parliament, National has agreed to do so only in consultation with Maori people, and apparently will proceed only if Maori agree to the abolition. Making the seats permanent like General Electorate seats are (called “Entrenchment”), which has been a Maori goal, is apparently not on the near-term agenda.

Apart from that, National promised to look at the Foreshore and Seabed Act, including the possibility of amendment or repeal (which Maori want). But the language in the agreement makes clear that National intends to keep the provisions of the legislation regardless, so repeal may be moot.

National—and the country—will have the biggest problems with ACT.

To gain ACT’s support, National agreed to various reviews and working groups on cutting government spending, eliminating “programmes that do not deliver value for money”, and involving the private sector in reviews of bureaucracy performance and public spending. Funny how ACT is so keen to cut government spending, but wants to spend a fortune on reviews and working groups and other processes. It looks to me as if ACT is seeking a justification for slashing government spending or eliminating entire programmes in areas that New Zealanders want left alone. “Value for money” is a loaded term that relies on the personal values of the reviewer as much or more than a review of balance sheets. This will require careful monitoring.

ACT also wants a flat-rate income tax; though National doesn’t, it nevertheless has pledged to work to flatten the rates, and their one-man-party partner wants a top tax rate of 30% across the board. All of which will reduce revenue that’ll have to be offset by spending cuts, increasing other taxes (GST, petrol, lower-earner income tax) and/or by borrowing.

The greatest publicity has been over the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), part of New Zealand’s commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. ACT wants it scrapped altogether, while National wants to amend it. So National agreed to a Parliamentary review in which climate change deniers will be given equal footing with real scientists with the pretty obvious goal of coming up with “rational” or “scientific” reasons for dumping the ETS altogether. At ACT’s insistence, National has agreed to push through an amendment to the ETS delaying its implementation, apparently indefinitely, and lifting the ban on new thermal generation plants while the review is being done. Worse, the “review” will be undertaken with results viewed “in the light of current economic circumstances”, a phrase that could be used to break any campaign pledge.

I didn’t vote for National precisely because I didn’t want ACT calling the shots on policy. John Key has pledged to lead a government for all New Zealanders. This is where he starts proving he’ll really do that—if he can.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New government confirmed

Today National Party Leader John Key announced the signing of a formal agreement with the neoconservative ACT Party to allow Key to form a government. Similar deals are expected with the Maori Party and one-man-party United Future. All parties will have ministers outside of cabinet and pledge support on confidence and supply.

So, it looks at this point like National may for the first time lead a stable minority government, after it’s first attempt at a coalition in 1996 spectacularly disintegrated. If so, it’ll be three years before the next election.

The news media continually refer to Key’s arrangement as a “coalition”; technically it’s not, but rather a minority government with support agreements. The difference between the two is that under a coalition, the minor parties are subordinated to the major partner, whereas in this arrangement, as was the case with the departing Labour-led government, the largest party leads government and the minor parties in the agreement pledge to support it, keeping their own identity and their right to disagree with the party leading government, and even to vote against it, except on confidence and supply motions.

To appease ACT, Key will set up “an advisory group to look at ways of closing the income gap with Australia by 2025” and will review government spending. ACT wanted drastic slashing of government spending, even though the country has entered a recession, but will have to settle for reviews instead. Nevertheless, expect to see cuts to government spending in the new budget.

Meanwhile, National is moving to make good on enacting their long-desired 90-day probationary period for new employees, during which an employer can sack a worker without cause (provided they don’t violate the Human Rights Act or engage in breach of contract). This would deny workers the right to allege unfair dismissal. Predictably, business interests strongly back this and unions oppose it. Unions argue that low-skill workers in particular will be vulnerable. However, the bigger concern is that business lobbyists are already arguing for a longer probationary period. No doubt I’ll be commenting more on this when the legislation is actually introduced in Parliament.

So far, Key appears to be maintaining his more moderate centre-right course. But after nine years out of power, conservatives in his own party will be wanting more. We’ll see which side wins.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Black and white

Of all the political consequences arising out of California’s shameful adoption of anti-gay Proposition 8, in my opinion one of the worst is the myth that African-Americans were mainly responsible for it. This myth probably started among people who couldn’t read statistics properly, but it’s promoted by überbigots in pursuit of their religious-political agenda.

It’s true that some 70% of African-American voters in California voted to approve Prop 8. However, those voters make up less than 10% of the California electorate. Roughly half of white voters also voted for it; why isn’t their race relevant, too? White progressives felt that African-Americans, as victims of centuries of bigotry, hatred and discrimination in America, ought to understand and oppose discrimination against GLBT Americans. Naturally, it’s not as simple as that.

Religion is a huge part of life among many African-Americans, and for them Prop 8 was a religious issue. And there are some African-Americans who have never accepted that GLBT rights struggles are legitimate civil rights struggles. This has been the focus of much of the media coverage, and it’s basically true. However, it ignores the many alliances between African-American civil rights activists and GLBT civil right activists, and it also ignores the strong support for GLBT rights struggles from major African-American civil rights leaders and organisations (as, for example, just today Equal Justice Society, California NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. joined with other groups in a multi-racial effort to overturn Prop 8 in the California Supreme Court).

Most folks within the GLBT communities now get this. Yet the racial division is still being perpetuated and nurtured, and that’s at the centre of the problem facing the GLBT and African-American communities alike.

Far right—and monolithically white—christianist groups and leaders have been promoting the myth of African-American opposition in order to drive wedges between GLBT and African-American people. They’ve exploited those realities I mentioned earlier—religious objection and discounting of civil rights—in an attempt to both shore up those objections among African-Americans, as well as subtly trying to convince GLBT people that African-American people are their enemies. If these extremist christianists succeed, they’ll manage to weaken two of the segments of society they despise the most.

What stands in their way is what’s sometimes glibly called “people power”, the strength that comes when ordinary people stand together to assert their civil and human rights. African-American and GLBT communities alike have much to lose if the überbigots succeed, so it makes sense for them to work together to secure freedom for everyone. Can they?

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter if the two communities get along or even if they like each other. What matters is that they realise how much they have to gain by working together. To use the old phrase, united we stand, divided we fall—the latter is exactly what the überbigots want.

So, we have a choice: We can all choose to call out the überbigots on their lies and distortions, we can oppose their politics of hate and division and continue to work together to create change, or we can surrender and lose everything. There’s no middle ground in this—it’s black and white.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Three unrelated bits

These three news stories caught my eye. They really have very little to do with each other, I guess…

New Zealand fifth with the ladies

The World Economic Forum has found that New Zealand was ranked fifth in the world for gender equality. The top country was Norway, followed by Finland, Sweden and Iceland. Britain was 13, Australia was 21 and the US was 27. This is great, but as the first nation in the world to give women the vote, and with a female Prime Minister for a decade, you’d think New Zealand would be a bit higher. Guess we’ll have to try harder.

Who would Jesus beat?

A Christchurch man who claimed that he had a right as a Christian to beat his son won’t be facing trial, after the Crown decided not to give any evidence in the case. Crown prosecutor Janine Bonifant said that was different from saying it didn’t believe the alleged offences took place. Whatever. It seems to me this joker got a free pass because he played the god card, and that’s never a good thing. (The original version of the news story linked to above puts this news item into its proper context within New Zealand politics).

Malaysian islamists freak over pants

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council recently decreed that women wearing pants risked becoming tomboys who became sexually active. Like that’s a bad thing or something. The Malaysian government, which recently went after bloggers and other dissidents, threatened anyone who disagreed with the fatwa, saying the government would “take stern action as it involves national security." Pants. On women. Threat to national security. Right… Some people really do need to get out more.

New Zealand wine podcast

My friend and fellow podcaster, Mark Tafoya, has just released an episode of his ReMARKable Palate podcast about New Zealand wines. Mark, a personal chef, has several new media projects, especially the Culinary Media Network, which this podcast is part of.

I thought this episode was really interesting. The guests talk about New Zealand and about the varieties of New Zealand wine, including some talk about what makes them different from the same varieties from other places. I was especially interested to hear about Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, which aims to make the industry completely sustainable by 2012 in order to protect the environmental integrity of their wine production, something that’s very important to New Zealanders. It was also interesting to hear about some of the things NZ winemakers are experimenting with.

You don’t have to be a wine lover to get something out of the podcast, though if you are, there’s plenty there. It has a lot of other interesting information about the country, too. Check it out—and while you’re there, be sure to check out some of the other Culinary Media Network projects, like their videos. Great stuff.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good moves

Prime Minister-elect John Key has been making some good moves so far, particularly with his effort to include the Maori Party in some sort of support arrangement. Apparently, the arrangement would include ministers outside of cabinet.

Clearly this is a good deal for Maori, who will be a partner with the Government of the day. That can only help them. It may also help National position itself for re-election in 2011 (though we Labourites may have something to say about that).

Mostly, this is good for New Zealand, not just because of the voice it would give to Maoridom, but especially because it’ll help keep the neoconservatives in ACT more or less on the sidelines—if National doesn’t really need them to govern, ACT won’t be in any position to dictate their far right policy, and that would be a fantastic thing.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The New Zealand election

The results of the New Zealand election weren’t exactly what I would’ve chosen. I gave the NZ Labour Party “two ticks”, meaning I gave them my Party Vote and voted for their candidate in my electorate. I’ve done this ever since I was able to vote in New Zealand, starting with the 1999 election. But there’s more to this story.

When the Labour Party lost the election Saturday, at first it seemed that New Zealand was heading toward a decidedly conservative government with an alliance of the National Party and the neoconservative ACT Party. Things now appear to be heading in a different direction, but more about that in a minute.

After conceding defeat, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that she was resigning as Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and so, would not be Leader of the Opposition. As it happens, Helen Clark was Leader of the Labour Party in Parliament since before I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, when she was Leader of the Opposition, so she's the only Labour leader I've known.

After a disastrous flirtation with the far right in 2005, the National Party selected a new leader, John Key, who worked at pulling his party back toward the centre. He adopted many policies similar to Labour’s, and pledged to actually keep some of Labour’s. He made his party less scary, in other words.

So Labour’s loss on Saturday wasn’t a repudiation of Labour’s policies, since so many of them will be retained. The constant talk has been that this was the year of “change”, with our elections coming three days after Barack Obama’s historic win in the US. Change was certainly a factor, but mainly it was New Zealanders’ legendary boredom with any party that’s been in power three terms, as Labour was. The party always had an uphill battle on its hands.

Figures from the Chief Electoral Office also demonstrate that National’s win was also partly the result of a distinct lack of enthusiasm from Labour voters. Turnout dropped in some 15 seats that Labour won in 2005, and the biggest drops of all were in strongly Labour seats.

What this all tells us is that National doesn’t have a mandate to jerk the country to the right. John Key’s behaviour so far indicates he doesn’t intend to.

After the election, the neoconservative ACT Party started gloating about what it would do, as if it’s tail, bent sharply to the right, would wag the National dog. But prior to the election Key declared that ACT Party founder Roger Douglas would not be in a National-led cabinet. As the architect of the economic reforms of the 1980s, Douglas became one of the most despised politicians in New Zealand because of the suffering his policies inflicted on ordinary New Zealanders. This past weekend’s Sunday Star-Times seemed to imply that Douglas thought Key would have to put him in cabinet. Then on the TVNZ programme Sunday, ACT Leader Rodney Hide was, by all accounts, gloating, talking about how they’d “slash spending”, among other things.

Things have turned out rather differently. It now appears that National won’t enter into a formal coalition with any party, but have confidence and supply agreements with ACT, Peter Dunne (a one-man party now) and even the Maori Party, with members of their caucuses becoming ministers outside of cabinet. This is the same way Labour was successfully governing. The arrangement allows the minor parties to remain independent and, perhaps more importantly, free to criticise the government when they don’t agree with it; in a formal coalition, disagreement isn’t permitted.

What National gets out of this is no small thing: It can remain in the centre and avoid being pulled to the far right, as ACT would want. Strategically, involving the Maori Party as a foil to ACT was near genius on John Key’s part.

Yep, that was a compliment for Key, from this diehard Labour partisan. I never disliked Key personally; in fact, he seems like a nice enough fellow. It’s other members of his caucus I don’t like or trust (or both in some cases, like Bill English). But so far Key has stuck to his promise that Douglas won’t be in cabinet, and he’s stuck to his promise to retain a carbon-trading scheme (albeit with revisions from Labour’s version). Both positions would have pissed off ACT, but Key knew there was no way they’d stand in the way of a National-led government, and Key’s overtures to the Maori Party means he doesn’t need ACT for a majority on anything; Key even told the media it was possible that ACT might not get any ministerial portfolios. All of these are very good signs.

I’m sure I’ll criticise the National-led Government, but it’ll be on specific issues or policies, or maybe only aspects of policies. How refreshing it is to feel that I won’t have to be in complete opposition to the other party as I was in US politics.

And one final bit of wonderful news from Saturday: All three of the supposedly major attempts at fundamentalist “Christian” parties were soundly trounced. The Kiwi Party, “Family” Party and Pacific Party were distant also-rans. There’s nothing new in that, as no attempt at a fundamentalist “Christian” party has succeeded in New Zealand elections.

So, there were some sad things about the New Zealand elections, some that appear to be promising and some that are downright fantastic. Pretty much like any election in any true democracy, really.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Last week was the busiest week of the month for me, and I had two elections distracting me. Fortunately, the New Zealand election was at the end of the week and, in any case, had much less of my attention than maybe it should have.

It was only on Thursday, and especially Friday, that I began to feel relief from the strain of the US election, something I didn’t even realise was there until it was gone. I can see now that I was deeply affected by the campaign for weeks, maybe months. Part of it for me was the gnawing fear that the Republicans would manage to steal another election, despite what all the polls were showing.

When the election was over, I felt a wave emotion common to many Obama supporters, something often attributed to the historic nature of the election. I’m sure that’s part of it, but I think for many of us the emotion was carried by a wave of profound relief that this time the people’s will won the day. It was a kind of liberation, in many ways.

I didn’t have anywhere near the same emotional investment in the New Zealand election, but that was apparently true of a lot of Kiwis. This was nothing like 1999, 2002 or 2005. And, New Zealand didn’t have anything negative like the forces of hate that cast a pall on what was in so many ways a great election for the US.

Added up, the events of this week have put me far behind on many things that I now have to complete, and I’m afraid this blog will have to wait a little while longer until I attend to those things. That, and sleep—I’m exhausted. But once I get past all that, I’ll have plenty to say on all these subjects.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

So there’s no doubt

Yes, I did vote. The results of the election have nothing to do with me. This is a "self-portrait", by the way…

Live blogging: NZ election results

Okay, I decided that I should do a little live blogging on the NZ election results, too. The coverage is always really boring for the first few hours, though.

Anyway, here’s what I have:

6:53 PM: New Zealand polls close in less than ten minutes.

8:07 PM: Results starting to come in, mostly from right of centre places. No surprises yet—no excitement, either. May be 3 hours before we know.

8:11 PM: John Campbell on TV3 is positively goofy and almost unwatchable. TVNZ has stupid skits. Where's the real news coverage?

9:28 PM: Election night coverage is stupid so far. All “experts” (many of them party hacks) giving questionable spin with no real results to back it up. Maybe they shouldn’t start their TV coverage until after 10pm when there’s something to actually report.

10:26 PM: Peter Dunne has already spoken, and assumes a National-led Government. If so, it would mean we'd have to endure another three years of the insufferably pompous Dunne, since he already cast his lot with National, rejecting Labour, with whom it had been in Government.

A few minutes ago, Winston Peters conceded, graciously. He won't win Tauranga and his New Zealand First Party won't cross the 5% threshold, so they're gone altogether, removing a potential coalition partner for Labour.

I'm pretty sure that National will lead the next government, pulled sharply to the right by the resurgent neo-conservative ACT Party, which will incude the return to Parliament of the vile Roger Douglas. So the question now is only how strong their combined majority will be.

10:49 PM: There will definitely be a National-led Government, and Labour lost some key seats. The right is already pinning it on Labour's progressive position on some social issues, and it's possible that the National-led Government will repeal the "Anti-Smacking" law. However, the far right parties that wanted more (like banning all abortions and repealing the Civil Union Act) all lost heavily, so there won't be any change there.

I'll have more post-mortems next week, but that's it for tonight. The result is pretty clear, even if the specifics may change a bit.

But before I go, the second-biggest loser tonight was the New Zealand public, who had to endure terrible and often downright embarassing election news coverage. It's a real shame that it was streamed over the Internet because people overseas will think we're morons. Mind you, some will think that solely because of the election result, but that's another matter entirely.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hate on the march

In the wake of their victories in several states—especially California—far right christianist extremists have been busy. They started polluting gay websites with hate-filled comments and pretending they’re victims. They took a few gay people’s intemperate remarks born of the frustration and the pain of having extremists succeed in taking away their fundamental human rights, and then decided that they’ve been “threatened”.

That’s a bit rich coming from people who routinely have made treasonous comments on their websites, advocating all sorts of violence toward the people they hate—especially gay and lesbian people. Their phony outrage doesn’t fool me.

But where are the hate-filled comments on my blog? I’ve left comments at sites they’re stalking and have included my URL, yet none of them have left homophobic comments here. I’m appalled at their lack of concern for the clear threat I present to them.

I mean, really: I have a university education, I don’t follow their crackpot “religions”, I vote Democratic in the US and Labour in New Zealand—I’m clearly everything they’re not: Educated, rational and enlightened. Moreover, I don’t let medieval superstitions guide my life, I trust science and I don’t believe in the supernatural. Clearly they need to go after people like me. And yet, not one stupid comment.

This blog is immune because the people who read it are more intelligent than the far right christianists who backed the hate measures like California’s Prop 8. I suspect that if any of the nutcases started attacking me I’d have plenty of people coming to my defence.

And that’s the thing that the haters should take from all this: We have far more allies and friends than they realise. They may have won the battle, but they will lose the war they’ve declared. And that’s not a threat—it’s a fact.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New Zealand lessons

Both major parties have tried to draw comparisons with the results of the US election. The conservative opposition party, the National Party, says it indicates change is in the air and that helps them. Not so, says the centre-left Labour Party, the party of Government. They point out that the US election was a rejection of conservative politics, and they’re closer to being correct. The change was a result of Americans’ repudiation of the policies of the past eight years, which was a conservative government.

When Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party drove the truly vile John Howard from government in Australia, New Zealand politicians similarly claimed comparisons. Oddly, the NZ National Party claimed that election of a Labor Government was somehow indicator of success for them.

The fact is, what happens in elections in other countries has no bearing on what happens in New Zealand elections. It’s a nonsense to suggest otherwise.

I thought it was especially rich for National to try and identify with Barack Obama when the party’s deputy leader, Bill “Loose Lips” English, was caught saying he thought Barack Obama was “moralistic” and that America needed a president who would “pull the trigger”. If Bill reflects National Party ideology, as one assumes a deputy leader does, then it’s the height of chutzpah to claim some positive connection.

Now the work begins

President-elect Obama and the Congressional Democrats have a huge task ahead of them fixing things at home and abroad. There are two wars, a faltering economy and the need to restore the rule of law—and that’s just for starters. They’ll need our help and our support.

But we Democrats should also take a minute to remember what it feels like to be on the other side, because in my voting lifetime we’ve been there rather a lot. In 2000, I never took Bush seriously (my mistake, I know) and never thought he could win, much less that he would. In 2004, knowing what they knew, I was sure—certain—that Americans wouldn’t retain the Bush-Cheney regime.

So I personally identified with a comment I saw on a blog last night from a Republican who, while graciously congratulating the Democratic owner of the site, nevertheless said that Obama wouldn’t be his president and that he couldn’t support him. I felt exactly the same way in 2000 and 2004. But what if this time we make things different? What if, as Obama himself said repeatedly, we find common ground with our opponents? Wouldn’t that be a way to break the partisan deadlocks and move forward, together?

I’m not naïve, and I don’t expect that Republicans will support everything that the new Administration and Congress will do. There will be times when, as a matter of principle, President Obama and Congressional Democrats will have to move on without the support of Republicans, and for the same reason, Republicans will have to oppose the Administration and Congressional majority. That’s called democracy, and it’s okay.

But if we try and find common ground, imagine how much more America can accomplish. We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, where the opposition was shut out entirely, and instead we must try and build bridges and cooperate and work together when we can. We’ve tried the other way, let’s try something new.

In the days and weeks ahead, this election campaign will be sliced and diced and examined like bacteria under an electron microscope. That always happens. And, I’ll share some thoughts of my own.

Today, though, I’m savouring the win, and having been part of history. It’s truly a fantastic achievement for American democracy and we should all be proud if it. Let’s start with that, then let’s start working on building the future together.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Live blogging: US election results

I'm going to attempt at least some live blogging as the US election results come in. I don't know if this is going to work, because the Internets may not cope with the strain of this election—much of the campaign was waged over the Internet, after all.

So, here we go…

1:00 PM (all times NZ time): CNN projects that Obama carries Vermont and McCain carries Kentucky. Obama now has 3 Electoral votes (only 267 to go!). McCain's actual vote in Kentucky so far is much lower than opinion polling was showing would be the case.

1:05 PM: As predicted, Warner wins Senate seat in Virginia. First gain by the Democrats.

1:16 PM: Jessica Yellin in CNN studio from Chicago via hologram. Why am I thinking, "Help me Obe Wan; You're our only hope..."?

2:00 PM: This waiting is torture. CNN calls Massachusetts (12), Illinois (21—yay, Illinois!!), Connecticut (7), New Jersey (15), Maine (3 of 4 so far), Delaware (3), Maryland (10) and District of Columbia (3) for Obama, giving him a new total of 77 Electoral votes. They also called South Carolina (8), Oklahoma (7) and Tennessee (11) for McCain, giving him a total of 34. they're being very cautious.

However, MSNBC calls Pennsylvania (21) and New Hampshire (4) and all four of Maine's Electoral votes for Obama, giving him 103. Better.

2:21 PM: Right wing Fox says Liddy Dole lost her Senate seat!!! Great News!!

2:30 PM: Fox has also called Pennsylvania for Obama. What's the holdup with CNN?

2:39 PM: CNN finally calls Pennsylvania for Obama. MSNBC has also called Georgia (15) and Alabama (9) for McCain; both are solid red states and the results were expected. That gives McCain 58 Electoral Votes. Nothing unexected in these results. And, as Jason pointed out in a comment, Obama has 74 Electoral Votes to come from the West Coast. New York is among the states closing at 3pm our time.

3:18 PM: Been watching all the analysis of the 3pm closings. It looks good for Florida going for Obama—poetic justice, in a way.

3:23 PM: Fox calls Ohio for Obama. They say it doesn't look good for McCain; hope they're right.

3:33 PM: They're all calling Ohio for Obama (apart from CNN), but Fox says Obama is at 200 Electoral Votes which, if true, would mean he'll win (because of Electoral Votes out West).

3:38 PM: Okay, CNN has joined the Ohio party. They've also shown how pointless McCain's efforts in Pennsylvania were.

3:58 PM: As we wait for the next wave, the news channels are talking to "analysts" and the Republicans are doing post mortems. Already.

4:30 PM: Okay I'm calling it: Obama's won. Now, let's defeat Prop 8!!!

4:48 PM: While we're waiting, Jason pointed out that there are now NO Republican Congress people left in teh Northeast states, though it was once the core of the party's support. They deserve that, Meanwhile, Fox says Obama takes Virginia.

4:55 PM: Okay, we're almost officially done.

5:00 PM: CNN projects that Obama wins!!!!!!

I never thought I'd live to see this day

I am so fucking happy I can't even say how happy I am....

5:25 PM: McCain is being very gracious in his concession speech. If this McCain had been running...

5:36 PM: McCain's crowd wasn't as gracious as the man. No surprise, I'm afraid. Prop 8 is currently winning 53-46 in California, but most of the results are from rural counties.

6:24 PM: Pleased to watch my new president's speech as President-Elect. No boos in the Obama crowd when McCain was mentioned.

8:17 PM: Still watching results on TV, but watching Prop 8 online. Looking bad, like hate might win: 52.8% for, 47.2% against with 37% of precincts reporting. The margin has been steady for awhile now.

9:31 PM: Early to bed. Tomorrow the work begins, but for tonight, sweet dreams.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Final day

Today was the final day of the 2008 US Presidential Election. There were times I thought it would never end.

There’s really nothing more that I can say that I haven’t already said here, on the podcast or somewhere else. At this late hour, there’s nothing I could say to persuade anyone, anyway.

Like plenty of others, my stomach will be in knots until the actual votes start coming in. I posted my official ballot nearly a month ago, of course, so my part was done quite awhile ago.

I’m hoping that tomorrow brings an election victory for Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats, and that California’s Proposition 8 goes down to a crushing defeat. I’m definitely not alone in those wishes.

Monday, November 03, 2008

LA Times sums it up

The Los Angeles Times has published an editorial strongly opposing Proposition 8 in California and, in the process, called out the religious extremists for their lies, distortions and promotion of bigotry. It concludes:

Californians must cast a clear eye on Proposition 8's real intentions. It seeks to change the state Constitution in a rare and terrible way, to impose a single moral belief on everyone and to deprive a targeted group of people of civil rights that are now guaranteed. This is something that no Californian, of any religious belief, should accept. Vote no to the bigotry of Proposition 8.

I couldn’t possibly agree more.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lucky 13: Expataversary and more

A thirteenth anniversary is no big deal—when it’s someone else’s. Today is a big deal for me.

Thirteen years ago today I arrived in New Zealand to stay, which makes it my Expataversary. Because this was the date when my permanent life in New Zealand began, this is the date Nigel and I take as our anniversary.

It’s an odd thing, but sometimes I have no idea how long I’ve been here: I completely lose track. Part of that is probably because I’ve now been living in New Zealand as long as I lived in Chicago, so I have an equally impressive stack of memories from this place (Trivia note: I moved to and left Chicago on Halloween).

These have been the best years of my life. That’s not a comparative statement, but a simple observation; it’s always a little dodgy saying something like that—it could piss off other people in your life, people who were a bigger part in the past. It also implies in some way that you don’t expect things to get even better.

All of us, if we’re smart, try to live as much as possible in the present, to enjoy what we have right in front of us. We can’t re-live the past, no matter how wondrous or glorious it was, and we can’t know what’s in the future. At least, that’s what we try and remember.

For me, though, it’s easy to enjoy the present when it’s so good. Sure I dream about the future, and I smile at memories of the past, but I’m so glad for what I have right now: I do work that I love doing (and some of it even pays money…), I have enough money to pay the bills and I have someone wonderful to share it all with. And Jake, too.

I have no idea what life will be like in another 13 years, but that’s part of what makes it so exciting and interesting. And it’s fun just finding out.

So thirteen years ago today, I started on this adventure, not sure what I’d find or even if it would turn out well. That adventure today is still as exciting and interesting as it was then, and it promises even more for the future.

Yep, thirteen can be pretty lucky.

Related previous posts:

Ex, but not ex-

Eleven Years an Expat

Twelfth Anniversary

While we’re sleeping

In case you missed it, amid all the attention given to the US elections, the Bush-Cheney regime has been working feverishly in secret to cement their neoconservative agenda of advancing the power of big business while suppressing the rights of, and protections for, ordinary Americans.

Back in July, I wrote about how the Bush-Cheney regime was secretly working to push through changes to regulations, removing workers protections from toxic chemicals, among other things. By finalising new regulaltions, they'd make it extremely difficult for the new president to change them. To do so, he'd have to begin the review process all over again, a process that can take many months, during which the Bush-Cheney regulations would remain in force. This could mean that the Bush-Cheney regulations would frustrate any plans at regulatory reform by the new president, thus cementing-in Bush-Cheney's hands-off regulation scheme for months or possibly years after they're out of office..

Well, they’re still at it.

The Washington Post reports that the regime is rushing to remove more regulations, including ones protecting consumers and the environment:

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Defending the hurried regulation changes, the Bush-Cheney regime’s spokesman, Tony Fratto, said: "This administration has taken extraordinary measures to avoid rushing regulations at the end of the term. And yes, we'd prefer our regulations stand for a very long time—they're well reasoned and are being considered with the best interests of the nation in mind."

He’s lying. The whole point is to rush them through while both the country and Congress are preoccupied so they can try and cement their neoconservative agenda. And, “best interests of big business” is more like it.

Republican apologists often say this behaviour is common for a departing president, that Bill Clinton “did the same thing.” Well, sort of. As the Post reports, after its installation in January 2001, “Bush's team was able to withdraw 254 regulations that covered such matters as drug and airline safety, immigration and indoor air pollutants. After further review, many of the proposals were modified to reflect Republican policy ideals or scrapped altogether.” They were able to do so because the Clinton Administration never completed the regulation changes before Bush-Cheney took over. With typical arrogance and determination to avoid oversight, the Bush-Cheney regime is rushing to make sure the new president won’t be able to do the same thing to them.

Add this to infinite list of reasons why this administration cannot end quickly enough.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Not a one

Halloween came and went, and we didn’t have even one trick-or-treater. I heard there were “a lot” of kids going around on the street, but none came down the long drive to our house or those of our neighbours.

Plenty of New Zealanders despise attempts to import Halloween and trick-or-treating into New Zealand. They say it’s an American thing that doesn’t belong in in this country. When I first arrived in New Zealand, I thought they were being silly.

Now, well, I see things a little differently. I haven’t changed my mind about the silliness of many of the Kiwi opponents of Halloween; instead, it’s just that I kind of like the idea of it being a uniquely American thing. Also, I’m not keen on giving retailers another opportunity to badger us to buy crap.

Personally, I haven’t cared about Halloween in a long, long time, so I don’t really care whether Halloween ever takes root in New Zealand or not. But I also wouldn’t try to stop it. I suppose that’s more treat than trick.