Thursday, December 31, 2009

At the end of the year

People like to take stock at the end of the year. They look at what went right, what went wrong, the good moments, the not so good. We like to look back and remember.

Ten years ago tonight, we were all waiting to see in the year 2000, most of us sure that the “Y2K Bug” was imaginary, but some fearful that it might not be. A minority were prepared to believe it was true, despite all the evidence to the contrary, just as some people are convinced the world will end in 2012 (it won’t by the way). Still, that was a very good night.

Unlike others, I won’t re-hash the year—there are plenty of sites that are doing that. I probably commented on a bunch of it here on this blog already. And for a pretty good wrap-up of the year in GLBT New Zealand news, GayNZ.com has its review.

But I will comment on the year personally, and 2009 was a good year for us. We got married in January and had our honeymoon in August. There were the usual get-togethers with family and friends, and other fun times. In sum, it was a good year.

It was also a good year for some of what I wanted do, too: Blogging, of course, my podcast and also another podcast, 2Political, which I started in March with my friend Jason (and which I’ve forgotten to mention ever since). I’m looking forward to even more creative endeavours in the New Year.

I love New Year’s.

Something I missed

I don’t know how I missed this version of my favourite YouTube video, but here’s a Kiwi version. Nice to see older people included.

New Year’s Honours

One of the traditions of New Year’s Eve is the release of the Honours List in which the government of the day picks certain people for special honour. Some of the those people will become knights or dames, after the National Party-led Government restored the titles the previous Labour-led Government removed.

This year’s list had some controversy when some blogger apparently talked about the list before its official release (yawn!) and officialdom and mainstream newsmedia mavens wrung their hands in mock horror (big yawn). It was a slow news time of the year, after all.

But this year’s list contained one honour that really surprised me: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has been named to the country’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, which is limited to only 20 living New Zealanders. I wouldn’t have expected that, but it was a very gracious thing to do and I would bet that Prime Minister John Key is behind it.

Clark was the first elected female prime minister, the first Labour prime minister to win three terms and she was prime minster for all but one year of this decade, with a stable, relatively calm premiership. She was also the longest-serving prime minister since Sir Keith Holyoake. That’s quite a list of achievements, and deserving of recognition.

Even the conservative New Zealand Herald, no friend of the Labour Party or Helen Clark, was full of praise, admittedly often wrapped in neo-conservative dogma. I actually thought it was a shockingly gracious editorial.

The rest of the list honours people who deserve it as well as some who probably don’t. That’s typical. I have no idea if there are any GLBT honourees, because I don’t know most of the names on the list, which is also typical.

Honouring Helen Clark is one definitely good thing about this year’s list.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

YouTube Video of the Year

Last May, I posted a video, “The Big Fat Gay Collab!” that had become a favourite (I went on to buy the song because of it). This video (language NSFW) expressed what I’d been feeling in the face of all the right wing—and especially anti-gay—bullshit. I still feel that way.

This video is my pick for the best YouTube Video of the Year. Then today I went to Joe.My.God. and saw that he’s picked this video, too. Said Joe:

Lots of sites are posting their "Best of YouTube" recaps this week. We loved the parodies of NOM's Gathering Storm ad, we giggled at all the Single Ladies tributes, and we got all teary-eyed over the many inspiring clips of impromptu marriage rallies/protests. But for me, one clip stands out above all the rest. Still makes me laugh, still chokes me up. Best Clip Of 2009: The Big Fat Gay Collab's lip-sync of Lily Allen's Fuck You. The kids are alright.

I agree completely.

I also posted a version from a French collab a couple weeks later.

Something I succeeded at this year

One month ago today, I posted about how little I’d blogged in November. With 23 posts, it was my least-blogged month apart from two others: December 2007 (17), where I was overseas or getting ready to go, and September 2006 (11), the partial month I began this blog.

For the first time since I’d started the blog, there was the real possibility that I might not reach my annual average of one post per day. In fact, back on November 30 it seemed unlikely.

But life can sometimes arrange itself the way you want, and I’ve now passed the one-per-day average for this year, keeping my record intact. My count of posts is somewhat lower than what Blogger says, so it’s only now that I’ve passed the number on my tally that I’ll mention it. This month, with a full day to go, is also now my most-blogged month.

I’ll admit to, um, helping that average a bit with a few posts that were basically fillers, but I won’t mention which ones—and don’t you do so, either: Posts you pick may have been perfectly ordinary ones that just seemed like filler. And, in any case, it’s my blog, so I can do with it what I want to.

As I said last month, I know that this is totally superficial and unimportant. Any day there are plenty more important things to post about than this dubious achievement, but I think that sometimes it’s okay on a personal blog to just stop and acknowledge a success, no matter how small or trivial or insignificant.

Just don’t expect me to outline my failures for the year. I think that tens of thousands of words is just too long for a blog post…

That time of year

This time of year is filled with fun and celebrations, starting at Christmas and ending around New Year’s Day. Happy times with good company are what we all want, and most of us get—including me.

And yet, as I wrote last year, I also inevitably think of my mother, whose birthday was this time of year. I suppose it’s fitting that I should think about her and her birthday when, in her lifetime, it was so often forgotten amidst holiday celebrations. But this is also the only time of year when I think of my mother a lot, and that’s as it should be: I have a life to live.

While the chance to give her birthday presents is long gone, remembering her at her birthday is one thing I can still do. To me, it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the best I can do. I hope it’s enough.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Illinois wingnut strikes again

A man the Chicago Tribune described as “a perennial candidate with a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric and legal disputes in federal court” is in trouble again for airing a campaign commercial alleging the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for US Senator from Illinois, US Representative Mark Kirk, is gay.

Andy Martin, who previously ran for office as Anthony R. Martin-Trigona, aired the commercial on WGN-AM and WBBM-AM saying:

"I helped expose many of Barack Obama's lies in 2008. Today, I am fighting for the facts about Mark Kirk. Illinois Republican leader Jack Roeser says there is a 'solid rumor that Kirk is a homosexual.' Roeser suggests that Kirk is part of a Republican Party homosexual club. Lake County Illinois Republican leader Ray True says Kirk has surrounded himself with homosexuals."

True told the Tribune that he "never made that statement" attributed to him by Martin. "I made a comment not about him (Kirk) at all, but that there were some people on his (Kirk's) staff that had a special orientation."

The Illinois Republican Party issued a statement disavowing Martin's ad: "His statements today are consistent with his history of bizarre behavior and often times hate-filled speech which has no place in the Illinois Republican Party. Mr. Martin will no longer be recognized as a legitimate Republican candidate by the Illinois Republican Party." That’s as close as the two main American political parties can come to expelling someone.

Obviously, I couldn’t care less whether Kirk is gay or not. Although I’ve criticised his partisanship in the past, the truth is, as Republicans go, he’s not as bad as most: The Human Rights Campaign rated him 85% for the 110th Congress, 75% for the 109th and 88% for the 108th. Nevertheless, I’ll either vote for the Democrat or no one, but that’s another topic.

A Chicago Tribune poll earlier this month found that Kirk was preferred by 41 percent, with all five of his opponents combined had 13 percent support; Martin had 2%. (the link has information on the polling for the Democratic Party candidates, too).

The Illinois Primary will be held on February 2, 2010. The winner of the Republican Primary will face the winner of the Democratic Primary, along with the nominees of minor parties, in the General Election on November 3, 2010.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Non-comprehensive immigration reform

One of the main disagreements among those seeking to reform US immigration law to end its discrimination against GLBT people, has been whether to pursue ad hoc reform of existing law through measures like the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), or to include GLBT reforms in comprehensive immigration reform. From what I can tell, leftists prefer only the latter, while others—like me—want to get the job done in whatever way can be passed and signed by the president.

On December 15, HR4321, the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act" of 2009 (CIR ASAP) was introduced in Congress. Despite its name, it’s hardly comprehensive: GLBT people are not included.

I read in Chicago’s Windy City Times that US Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL-4) introduced the bill, but the lead sponsor of the legislation is actually US Representative Solomon P. Ortiz (D-TX-27), with Gutierrez listed as a co-sponsor. Which makes me wonder why Gutierrez is being singled-out for criticism by Chicago GLBT activists. However, Gutierrez’s long-time support for GLBT people would lead one to think that he’d push truly comprehensive immigration reform (Gutierrez is a co-sponsor of UAFA).

In any case, US Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL-5), also a co-sponsor of UAFA, may introduce an amendment to include GLBT people in the new bill. Last October, according to WCT, Quigley said that no bill could be “comprehensive” without GLBT people included. His Congressional District has a large GLBT population.

Leftists, however, hate UAFA and aren’t too keen on similar reform. Writing on the Daily Kos, veteran activist Michael Petrelis summed up the position of the left:

I must… point out that Gay Inc advocates were only asking for changes related to gay couples and gay immigrants who are single were left out in the cold. Another depressing instance of our leaders elevating the concerns of couples above everyone else. Why can't we put forward laws that meet the immigration needs of gays in partnerships and gay individuals?

This is utter nonsense. Obviously, if one isn’t in a relationship, one doesn’t need to worry about sponsoring a non-American partner. The issue here is that current law relating to couples applies only to opposite-sex couples—the American can sponsor their non-American husband/wife. Put another way, UAFA and similar approaches seek to have same-sex bi-national couples treated equally with heterosexual bi-national couples. Clearly single people are irrelevant to issues affecting only couples.

Immigration law in general isn’t too kind to single people, but that’s an issue to address, not a reason to knock or oppose UAFA as many LGBT leftists do. To the extent that immigration law addresses single people’s needs, obviously gay people should be treated equally.

The problem for many leftists is that they want poor, unskilled single immigrants treated the same as skilled migrants (single or partnered), something that no country I’m aware of does, except as part of their UN commitment, if any, to accept refugees. Being in a relationship, particularly with a citizen or national of the country, is often seen as a settlement factor for the immigrant.

So, it seems to me that seeking to have same-sex bi-national couples treated the same as heterosexual bi-national couples is a no-brainer. So is making sure that immigration law treats GLBT singles the same as heterosexual singles. But trying to suggest that reform for GLBT couples must be rejected until there’s a policy to allow poor, unskilled single migrants is an absurd, naïve position for politically privileged folks whose lives don’t depend on achieving real reform for GLBT people.

I am a pragmatist and an advocate for GLBT people. I am not, and make no claim to be, a leftist. It’s leftists’ right to sit on their hands until perfection can be achieved, but as for me, I prefer to get what we can get, however incremental and imperfect it may be.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Boxing Day v2

Today was the public holiday for Boxing Day (because it fell on a weekend day—Saturday). We actually didn't do much today, apart from picking up lunch and some groceries. The streets were surprisingly empty, nothing like the real Boxing Day.

Tomorrow, it's back to normal (for three days…). We're still on holiday, so tomorrow won't be all that different than today. I like that.

And one year ago, we were planning our wedding. How time flies!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPod Touch (cuz I'm waiting for "Piha Rescue" to come on)

Christmas updates

There are always a few things that I forget to mention when I write a post about—well, most things, actually. That includes my post about Christmas.

First, I forgot to mention that we watched the Queen’s annual Christmas message on Christmas Day (it's the video above—I thought the former colonials might like to see the Queen of New Zealand’s annual message). When I first moved to New Zealand, I was actually excited about seeing it for the first time, but over the years I became pretty blasé about it. For a time the speeches were released as podcasts, but now they’re all posted to the The Royal Channel on YouTube.

Also, we’ve upped our estimate of the temperature at our house on Christmas Day to the low 30s (that’s upper 80s, low 90s in US temperatures). We’re still working on heat-fighting measures.

Then there are a couple things I couldn’t know on the day: NZ Bus ended the years-long tradition of free bus rides in Auckland on Christmas Day, due to the company losing big money. That’s their right, but despite their PR spin, the public wasn’t well notified in advance: The only notice most people got was posters on buses—nothing was in the media. So, NZ Bus came across looking positively Grinchy.

There was a 25km (about 15 and a half US miles) long traffic jam north of Auckland yesterday. There were also the annual horrendous queues of cars waiting to cross the Kopu Bridge near Thames as they waited to head north to the Coromandel. That jam will soon be fixed by a new bridge, but the Auckland bottleneck will remain for quite some time.

There, with those updates done, the universe is back in balance.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Summery video

It’s been just over a year since I last posted a video, and this was totally not worth the wait. I was just testing the new camera and posted it because my friend Tom, the Ramble Redhead, posted a video of a snowstorm going on where he lives. A little summery antidote seemed in order.

More—real—videos will be coming. Should you want to for some reason, you can download the full-resolution podcast version of this video from my podcast site.

American losers

Seven US states lost population in the year ended July 1. That means that more people moved out (or died) than moved in (or were born there). The states losing population were:

1. California ( –98,798), 2. New York ( –98,178), 3. Michigan ( –87,339), 4. Illinois ( –48,249), 5. Ohio ( –36,278) , 6. New Jersey ( –31,690), 7. Florida ( –31,179).

Of these states, Michigan stands out: It lost .88% of its population, which is the highest proportion of any state. On the other hand, the losses have slowed for both California and New York. Naturally the one that bothers me the most is seeing my home state, Illinois, shrinking.

When I lived in the US, I was vaguely aware of population trends, but since moving to a country in which such statistics make the evening news, I’m a bit more aware. Moving somewhere new can do that to a person—just don’t move from Illinois, K?

Talkin’ about the weather

Only the most ideological of Luddites would claim that the earth’s climate isn’t changing. Other Luddites may deny that humans have caused the rapid change, but even they have to admit the reality of that change.

For the planet, 2009 was the fifth warmest of the past 130 years. In New Zealand, the year ended the warmest decade ever recorded, including New Zealand’s warmest winter in 150 years.

But New Zealand’s spring was far colder than normal, with October the coldest in six decades. That month also saw record-setting snowstorms in parts of the North Island. The extremes of weather that New Zealand and other places have seen are far more than the “normal variation” the Luddites claim. Instead, they’re an indication of a global climate out of balance. Still, the deniers are able to continue get away with denial precisely because there can be extremes in the other direction.

Some of this year’s weird weather has been documented here on this blog. Most of it hasn’t. That doesn’t mean I can’t see it, though—and I’ve certainly felt it. I'm sure weather is something we’ll all be talking about—a lot.

See also: Heatwave caps year of weird weather (NZ Herald)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hitting the sales

We’re not stupid enough to attempt the Boxing Day sales—not at the malls, anyway. Apparently retailers rang up about as much in sales as they did on Boxing Day last year—but there are two more days in this holiday weekend to go.

This afternoon, when the sales had been going on for many hours already, Nigel and I headed out. As it turns out, we didn’t find what we were looking for (more searching is required). So we thought we may as well go to Wairau Park to look at a wireless weather station (so we can tell the temperature inside the house and out). We also decided to pop in Harvey Norman.

All retailers had something on special at a ridiculous price to get people in the door. For Harvey Norman, it was a laptop for $288. They were sold out by the time we got there, though we weren’t looking for one: We just thought we’d see what else was on special. I found the Samsung U10 flashcam on special for almost half off. I also got a memory card for it at 25% off.

Normally I wouldn’t mention all that here, but in this case it’s relevant because the camera fits in my pocket better than the still camera did, meaning there may be more casual snaps I can post. More importantly, though, it means I’ll again make videos now that I have a better camera that’s easier to bring along. Watch for them here, too.

And we did get a weather station—at about 30% off the regular price. Once we had it all set up, we found out that the temperature in the house was actually nearly as high as outside (just over 26 degrees inside—about 78 F). That’s way too high, and suggests the air conditioning isn’t working properly, so we'll ring next week too get it serviced.

The photos with this post were taken on Croftfield Lane in the Wairau Park area of North Shore City. The top one is looking in a southerly direction; you can see the cars going around the roundabout, but most of the cars visible are parked on the grass because the carparks were full. The photo below was taken at the same spot, looking the other way. Lots of cars parked on the grass, lots of people crossing the street all over the place.

Still, crazy as it was, traffic did move, and it wasn’t as mad as at other places. But we still basically kept far away from the malls. That was a smart move.

And now Boxing Day

Growing up in the US, I’d seen Boxing Day on calendars—with a little “Canada” designation—but I had no idea what it was. I also had no idea that it’s a holiday observed throughout the Commonwealth.

Boxing Day is a public holiday in several Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, but there’s no clear consensus about how it originated. On his blog, my e-buddy Roger Green pointed me toward origin theories in Britain (where, after all, it began), and Wikipedia provides an altogether too certain explanation:

“The name derives from the tradition of giving seasonal gifts to less wealthy people and social inferiors. Until their distribution, these gifts were stored in a ‘Christmas box,’ which was opened on December 26, when the contents were distributed. In the United Kingdom, this was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants.”

Despite the presentation of that theory as fact, in reality no one knows for sure how or why the holiday originated. All we know for sure is that it has nothing to do with pugilism, as I once thought.

However, Wikipedia does provide a good description of what Boxing Day is in New Zealand:

“Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday, much as the United States treats the day after Thanksgiving. It is a time where shops have sales, often with dramatic price decreases. For many merchants, Boxing Day has become the day of the year with the greatest revenue.”

Many stores now have “Boxing Day Sales” that last right up to New Year’s Eve (the New Year’s Sales take over on January 1). I’ve always thought it was odd to talk about a “Boxing Day Sale” that lasts five or six days, but, then, I’m pedantic like that.

When Christmas or Boxing Day falls on a weekend, the public holiday is moved to the following week. So, since this year Boxing Day is a Saturday, the Public Holiday will be on Monday. That means we get a four-day weekend most years.

Better still, the same things happen with the public holidays of January 1 and 2: If they fall on a weekend, the public holiday shifts to the following week. So, we often get two four-day weekends in a row. I like that.

So Boxing Day, whatever its origins, is now a major shopping day. We’re going out to join the shopping crowds, too, but not for anything terribly exciting: We want to get some shades to keep the afternoon sun out so we don’t have a repeat of yesterday’s discomfort—this is expected to be a hot summer.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

This was a great Christmas—but hot! Truthfully, it was among the hottest Christmases I can remember (our air conditioning couldn’t keep up—we’ll be checking that out!). The official temperature hit 24, which means it was more like 29 (that's 75 and 84 in US temperatures).

The photo above is our spread. Nigel was in charge of the BBQ and did a wonderful job (as always). His sister was on salad duty. The photo below is of our traditional New Zealand dessert: Pavlova (and don’t let any Australian steer you wrong, it’s a New Zealand invention!). It came from The Cheesecake Shop—highly recommend their Pavs.

We watched movies, music videos and just plain relaxed. A very nice, relaxing day, in other words—Like Christmas should be, I think.

Yes, we decorated—sort of…

A couple days ago, I posted about some “decorations” I’d put up. I said you’d have to check back to see if there were any more decorations. I wasn’t being crafty or anything: I really didn’t know.

Well, as it happens, we did do decorating—a little.

The photo at top is of some LED lights we snaked through the truss system that holds our home theatre. Did I say snaked? Kinda looks like a serpent.

The first photo below is of the Christmas cards we’ve received, and in front of them a series of Christmas ornaments given to us by Jason. They’re from the White House Historical Association series, and depict the White House during various presidencies. They’re a unique gift, and we like displaying them all together like this.

The last photo is our tree—and that gives an idea of why the White House ornaments are displayed the way they are: There’s nowhere to hang one. On the plus side, the tree takes a few seconds to put up or take down.

That’s it. Compared to recent years, we really decked the halls this year. Next year? I have no idea. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas tidings

New Zealanders today hit a new record for spending: 131 EFTPOS transactions per second between midday and 1pm, leading to a total of 438,000 for that hour. All up, projections are for a record $225 million, give or take, to have been spent today.

As the country begins moving out of recession, this will be good news for retailers, many of whom make most of their profits at Christmas. But this zap to the economic system isn’t quite enough to get the entire country moving and growing again. Time and looser wallets will do that.

But if “consumer confidence” is returning, that’s a gift for the entire county.

Literate statistics

Central Connecticut State University released a ranking of “America’s Most Literate Cities 2009”. Since I posted only yesterday about reading and books in New Zealand, I was interested.

What I found was that “This study focuses on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.” All those categories are defined on the CCSU study site.

To calculate how “literate” a place is, one has to have things that can be measured, and they picked some of what they thought were good indicators. I thought some were a bit odd, or oddly defined.

When I talked about reading in New Zealand, I referred to a time and use study, which is a way of measuring if people themselves are literate by how much time they spend reading. I decided to see how Auckland fared using just a couple of their indicators:

Bookstores: There are approximately 1.2 bookstores per 10,000 people in Auckland—this is all bookstores, across all categories, calculated using a search tally from the Yellow Pages.

Newspaper readership: In 2008, 39.4% of Aucklanders aged 15+ read a typical issue of the daily New Zealand Herald, and 23.7% read the Herald on Sunday. In addition, 11.9% of Aucklanders aged 15+ read a typical copy of the Sunday News, and 18.5% read the Sunday Star-Times. [Source: Nielsen Media National Readership Survey Q1 2008 - Q4 2008 Nationwide face to face interviewing of 12,000 people aged 10+]

These are crude statistics, in part because spending only a little time on the afternoon of December 24 meant I couldn’t hope to get the same amount of raw data that the study author had. Another reason the statistics aren’t comparable is that I have no idea how they compare to the study’s US cities—those statistics aren’t on the site, only their rankings.

This is just some information I put together after reading the study and became curious; on the Internet, one thing inevitably leads to another, and sharing what’s found is the next logical step. Who knows, one day I may be able to do a more comprehensive examination—or find someone else who has.

The top 10 “most literate” cities in the US are: 1 Seattle, 2 Washington DC, 3 Minneapolis, MN, 4 Pittsburgh, PA, 5 Atlanta, GA, 6 Portland, OR, 7 St. Paul, MN, 8 Boston, MA, 9 Cincinnati, OH and 19 Denver, CO.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A father who isn’t one

Just before I went to bed tonight, I decided to check the news sites, as you do. Then I found the following on Stuff:

An Australian dad is accused of forcing his son to have sex with a prostitute because he feared the 14-year-old was gay.

During a family barbecue around Christmas time in 2007, the father allegedly phoned a prostitute and arranged to meet her at a motel on Yaamba Road, North Rockhampton, Queensland.

The father allegedly drove his son to the motel and paid the prostitute in $50 notes. The prostitute took the boy into a motel room while the father waited on a balcony.

The father walked in and out of the room to check on his son and told him he wanted to see a used condom as proof that they'd had sex.

A magistrate yesterday found there was enough evidence against the father for him to stand trial for the rape of his son.

Personally, I hope the bastard rots in jail. It’s not bad enough that he “feared” his son was gay, nor that he hired a prostitute to make his son “prove” he was straight, no the weirdo needed to see a used condom as “proof”. Was this guy a pederast or something?

The same general story has been used in countless works of fiction and movies in which a young gay man deals with a psychotic father. This time, the evil-doer will face justice, and that’s a good thing. Sadly, this same story is repeated throughout the world because some people refuse to accept that homosexuality is natural, normal and healthy for those who are gay. Deal with it.

As long as people continue to believe the nonsense that sexuality is changeable, this sort of story will repeat. At least this time the insane father didn’t drive his son to suicide.

Festive decorations?

It all started with “backwards” seasons.

I used to be into Christmas bigtime, but having it in summer just seems wrong. So, ever since I moved to New Zealand, I’m just not so into it anymore. A few years we’ve had traditional trees—ornaments and all—but most other years we’ve had nothing at all.

Part of that is practical: We usually go to visit family at Christmas, so decorations are kind of unnecessary. Most of it, for me, is that Christmas in summer just seems wrong.

This year, like most, we have no decorations. But today I was tidying up and found a garland sort of thingy that was part of a present to Nigel. I looked at it. It seemed perfect for a head, and while mine is plenty too big, it wasn’t big enough for this, so I put it on the one head that was: A clay mask on our wall.

Kinda, um, basic as decorations go, but that’s how I be.

The real question is, will this be our only Christmas decoration? You’ll have to check back to find out.

Costly words

Nearly every American expat I’ve known has commented on how expensive books are in New Zealand. Ironically, Kiwis are known to be great readers: A 1998-99 study found that the average Kiwi spends about three-quarters of an hour a day reading as a primary activity, something that increases with age and education levels. Take out the people who never read, and the amount of time the average reader spends reading is much higher. I know from my personal experience that a huge percentage of people read on public transport, on lunch breaks, etc.

So all that should mean a large number of potential readers, right? Not when the country has only 4.3 million people. Even if our book market was combined with Australia, we’re still only a fraction of the potential market of the US. Books are more expensive to produce for a small market—which also explains why so much of our fiction is foreign.

There are two main bookstore chains in New Zealand: The largest is Whitcoulls, part of the Australian company AR Whitcoulls that also owns Borders in Australia and New Zealand. There’s also Paper Plus, which is partly a stationery store, and most locations are fairly small. The Warehouse also sells books, but many of them are remainders and the rest are mainly mass-market. So, there aren’t a lot of retail options.

Awhile back, I used online retailer fishpond.co.nz to buy a New Zealand book, and was satisfied with their service. They kept me informed of the order’s progress and the order arrived quickly—but the book was almost obscenely expensive. Recently, I also tried Whitcoulls online sales because the book was much cheaper than on Fishpond. However, Whitcoulls had crappy communication and the order, promised for delivery in 7-10 “business days”, actually arrived on the 14th business day. You get what you pay for, I guess.

I know many Kiwis who place orders through Amazon in the US, and have been very happy with the service, even commenting about how quickly the order arrived. But there are costs in converting the order to NZ dollars, plus international shipping, so it makes sense to order more, less often.

Amazon’s Kindle is not available in New Zealand. Last October, New Zealand PC World magazine reported that Vodafone NZ was in “deep discussions” with Amazon about bringing the Kindle here. Nothing’s come of that.

However, there’s a free app for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch that allows users to read Kindle editions without a Kindle. I’ve downloaded it and a sample to try, and I think I could handle it. The screen may seem a bit small for reading, but it’s only slightly smaller than a mass-market paperback. Also, the resolution is good and it’s colour.

Amazon also offers similar free software for the PC (a Mac version is coming).

If one has the PC and iPhone/iPod Touch versions and/or a Kindle, it’s possible to move the books around and synch notations and so on. If it really works, that sounds useful—and kinda cool. The advantage of the Kindle approach is that the books are much cheaper than the paper versions. The disadvantage is that they’re e-books (a subject in itself).

There are many free public domain e-books/e-texts available, too, from places like Project Gutenberg.

What all of this means is that even though printed books are often expensive in New Zealand, it seems to me that until a really good e-book system is developed, the printed version is still the best option.

Just add water

Earlier this week we took a run up to Albany, here in North Shore City, and passed along Schnapper Rock Road. At one point we were stopped in traffic and I rolled down the window and snapped this photo (click on it to embiggen).

Very recently, there was nothing here (and the Google Maps image shows nothing there at the time they shot their photo). It’s weird to see formerly open land gobbled up so quickly.

This is kind of indicative of the way housing is being built now—almost American-style subdivisions (though they’re not called that here). This sort of thing has gone up all over the North Shore, and I’ve seen it in Hamilton, too: Reasonably large houses on relatively small sections (“lots” in the lingo where I grew up), generally only the minimum size allowed. Way different from the old days of “quarter acre sections”.

In the middle distance is a green field; that’s Albany Junior High School, the establishment of which caused a huge controversy because it was thought to be too American (at the time, and probably now, there were no “junior high schools” in New Zealand). Kind of fitting, then, that American-style housing is going up near it.

But the point of this photo isn’t to show another example of “creeping Americanism”; instead, I just wanted to show what a current housing development in our area looks like, and this is one of the clearest shots I’ve seen (thanks to the high ground).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

National Party’s vile cronyism

Since winning the last election, the National Party has been busy replacing government appointees who may lean toward the Labour Party with their own supporters. Although this sort of cronyism is petty and stupid, it’s nothing new: Both parties have done it and Labour will almost certainly do it the next time they’re in Government.

That doesn’t give any party the right to appoint grossly unqualified people, however, as the National Party has just done.

On the last Friday before a holiday week, Justice Minister Simon Power quietly announced the appointment of, among others, former National MP Brian Neeson to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which decides complaints of discrimination brought under the Human Rights Act. Yesterday the No Right Turn blog documented Neeson’s extensive record of bigotry dating back to 1991. The blogger concludes by observing, “The man is a bigot who supports discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, and family status. Appointing him to the Human Rights Review Tribunal is like appointing Taito Philip Field to an anti-corruption taskforce.”

And so it is. Among other things, Neeson opposed the Human Rights Act—and tried to prevent gay people from being included. He also opposed the inclusion of same-sex and de facto couples in 2001’s Relationships (Property) Act, which was especially important before the Civil Unions Act came along. How can someone who so fervently opposed recognition of the human and civil rights of GLBT New Zealanders be a fit choice for the body that will determine if such people are discriminated against?

Both Neeson and Power are avoiding the media. Power has refused to explain what they were thinking. Neeson’s silence suggests he hasn’t seen the error of his ways and repented his earlier political sins.

All of which makes this nothing more than cronyism of the most vile and contemptible kind, not just because Neeson is so desperately unqualified for the position he’s been appointed to, but also because he will be in a position to make life worse for some of the very people that the Human Rights Review Tribunal is supposed to protect.

Simon Power wants to all but eliminate the right to a jury trial: National estimates its new draft bill [PDF here] will reduce jury trials by some 40%. He pushed through a law change allowing juries to convict with one dissenting juror. Now, he’s appointed a bigot to human rights body. Why, exactly, is he Justice Minister?

Congressional jerk

During the debate on the healthcare “reform” bill in the US Senate, Senator Tom Coburn, a jerk Republican from Oklahoma (who’s also a member of the secretive far-right christianist cult “The Family”), said Americans should pray that one of the Democratic US Senators wouldn’t be able to vote to stop Republican plans to block the bill. Democrats saw this as a reference to Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) who is 92 and in poor health.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois—who I have proudly voted for—took to the floor to offer Coburn the chance to explain himself, but Coburn didn’t do so. Senator Durbin was low-key, but pointed.

In the end, Coburn’s god didn’t answer his prayers, so one must assume he’s on the side of the Democrats, right?

Update 23 December: Turns out Coburn's prayer did work: Senator James Inhofe, the other troglodyte Republican Senator from Oklahoma, missed a procedural vote on healthcare "reform" and the vote was 60 to 39. See? It's obvious now that Coburn's god really is on the side of the Democrats!

Here and there

People often ask me if there’s anything I miss from the US; they also ask me if there’s anything I miss about the US, but my answer to that more general question depends on context. At one time or another, though, I’ve answered both questions here or in my podcast.

The question about things from the US is about stuff—products, food, TV shows, even. The truth is, there isn’t much to miss.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, there were some familiar brands—Kellogg’s, Heinz, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and so on. Later, other brands entered the market, like Ocean Spray products, Oreos, Ritz Crackers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The point isn’t any particular product—I didn’t, and still don’t, necessarily buy any of them. But their presence made my new home seem more familiar.

On the other hand, we don’t have all the American fast-food chains (which is a good thing), and there are some products that I certainly do miss (a couple I’ve mentioned before: tinned pumpkin and Little Debbie Nutty Bars). By and large, though, I can get everything I can think of, even if sometimes it means a local equivalent or something more creative (like making pumpkin puree for pies from scratch, as I will do someday).

So in some ways it seems like there’s very little difference left anymore. Some Kiwis have complained about “creeping Americanism” to describe alien cultural traditions, like American-style Halloween, being introduced into New Zealand. And yet, American products or influence turn up in the oddest places, not all of them obvious.

Recently I noticed that a local takeaway restaurant was putting dipping sauces in small plastic containers made by Solo Cup, either in Urbana, Illinois (pictured), or Highland Park, Illinois; the latter is close enough to where I grew up that I knew some kids from high school who had summer jobs there during their university years.

I’ve also heard evidence. When I first arrived in New Zealand, people would say they were going to go to the toilet (meaning the room), or sometimes the loo. These days I often hear people refer to “the bathroom” instead. Pronunciation of some words is slowly shifting and, thanks to “English (US)” being the default spelling dictionary in Microsoft Word, American spellings are often used in emails and other documents—sometimes even making it into newspapers.

The uniqueness of New Zealand certainly isn’t about to disappear, but to me it seems a shame that so much of American culture is being absorbed into New Zealand along with its products. Just further examples of the effects of globalisation, I suppose.

Still, if somebody could do something about getting canned pumpkin and Little Debbie products into the grocery stores here, I wouldn’t mind at all. And that’s exactly why globalisation has the effect it does.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kids these days

In the photo above, Vajonno, Matt-matt and our niece Stacie explore a Shisha (aka Hookah)—I can certify that here was nothing illegal in that thing. Apparently these things are all the rage among young people in New Zealand. In my day, we called it something else and people filled it with something else, but that was a more innocent time. Maybe kids these days are more sensible than we were.

Land o’ linkin’

I think I said this recently, but I’m updating my blogroll and podcast roll (podroll?) here and at my podcast site (they’re the same). Over the next week I want to add new links I’ve been meaning to add, drop obsolete ones and make sure they’re all working.

If you link to me, but I don’t link back, please let me know—it’s not intentional! Also, if we don’t trade links and you’d like to, let me know that—as long as you’re not some wingnut or far right religionist, because that would be too weird and inappropriate!

When’s summer?

This isn’t a moan about the weather—which has been pretty good, actually. Instead, it’s about the start of summer. To most Kiwis, summer starts on December 1, not on the Solstice (which, for the record, is tomorrow, December 22, at 6:47am). The December solstice marks the point when the sun is the furthest south, from the earth’s perspective, making it the Southern Hemisphere’s longest day and the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest. Like they say: Axial tilt is the reason for the season.

Yeah, well, whatever: Hardly anyone takes any more notice of the Solstice than they do the March and September Equinoxes, or whatever the plural is (I talked about the March Equinox earlier this year). That’s because the summer weather doesn’t wait for the December Solstice any more than winter weather waits up north.

Whenever it starts, and whenever it ends, summer is by far my favourite season. And that was true even in Chicago, which had summers far more severe than Auckland.

Happy summer!

Delicious duplicity

The New Zealand Herald reported over the weekend that last month the Act Party nearly rolled their leader, Rodney Hide. According to the story, Roger Douglas, once the party president and the leading troglodyte in a party made for them, together with the deputy leader, Heather Roy, were plotting the coup.

Douglas once publicly berated Hide back in the days when Hide was a populist “perk buster”. It was when Hide got caught taking advantage of perks that Douglas apparently got incensed and started plotting a coup.

There’s a particular kind of chutzpah needed for Douglas and Roy to do this: Were it not for Rodney, NONE of them would be in Parliament. In the last election, Act received barely 3 and a half percent of the party vote and would’ve been shut out of Parliament altogether had Rodney lost his seat in the Epsom electorate. So, Douglas and Roy owe their cushy, well-paid Parliamentary jobs to Rodney Hide.

What saved Hide was apparently intervention by Prime Minister John Key, who told Roy that if they rolled Hide, she would probably lose her ministerial portfolios. He’d already declared many times, as far back as the campaign, that there was no way Douglas would ever have a ministerial portfolio in a John Key premiership.

There’s probably no more despised NZ politician than Roger Douglas, owing to the radical neo-conservative economic agenda he forced on New Zealand in the 1980s. Douglas is either unaware or refuses to acknowledge that those failed policies were abandoned the better part of two decades ago, and no politicians outside the fringe Act Party still embrace them.

At about the same time as this was going on, another government partner, the Maori Party, was going through its own internal struggles. Key apparently thought about calling a snap election so he could win enough seats to govern alone. He may have succeeded, or voters may have punished him for his partner parties’ troubles. We’ll never know.

But this is about as exciting as political intrigue gets in New Zealand. Clearly our politics are a little more placid and, well, normal than in other countries. I like that.

The economy scam

At least once a week, the media carries a story about how “badly” New Zealand is doing relative to other countries, especially Australia. Yesterday, The New Zealand Herald carried an article by Andrea Milner, which began, “As Australia's economic recovery strides ahead of ours, Kiwis wanting career opportunities and financial reward would be better off going there next year.”

Her justification for that opening was, “Official statistics show that Australians enjoy incomes one-third higher than New Zealanders do, and some market-watchers predict that as our neighbour comes out of the slow-down faster than New Zealand, the gap will increase to around 40 per cent.”

Like most economic coverage in the media, this only presents part of the story, reporting breathlessly about how much higher salaries are in Australia. She offers ONE brief paragraph as balance, admitting that the Kiwi couple she mentioned who found an income more than twice what they could in New Zealand was paying $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and that groceries cost more than in New Zealand.

Salaries only tell part of the story: Taxes, hidden government fees and costs of living (housing, food) are almost always higher in Australia. Include those factors and the salary difference is much less. Contrary to the headline for Andrea Milner’s article, man Kiwis have found that “Oz, our pot of gold next door” doesn’t ring true.

But the business elites don’t talk about higher salaries in Australia: To them our lagging behind Australia is “our” fault. Alisdair Thompson, of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, wrote in today’s Herald that, “New Zealanders, as a whole, live constantly beyond our incomes, so much so that our domestic savings fall well short of our borrowings.”

We hear that a lot from the business elites—we’re a nation of binge spenders. Trouble is, they don’t really mean what it sounds like they’re saying: What they really mean is that ordinary people don’t buy shares and that the government’s deficit relative to GDP is “too high”.

To the business elites, money that ordinary people save or invest in some other way (like a mortgage) is merely “deferred consumption”. That may be a holy doctrine among business economists and the business elites, but it’s bollocks.

Ordinary people do of course save money so they can spend it later—in the past that was encouraged as a positive virtue. Now, as Thompson lovingly asserts, “the purpose of all production is ultimately consumption” (well, duh! What’s the point of producing products or services if they’re not bought?). However, the point of life is not consumption, and this is where the business elites and shallow business journalists completely lose the plot.

People want to improve their lives, and sometimes that means consuming things. But it also means providing a home, the necessaries of life and enough unnecessary extras—luxuries—to make life fun. None of that necessarily involves buying shares, nor does it automatically mean going into debt.

Money saved in New Zealand does, contrary to what the EPMA implies, provide money to loan here in NZ. But since the main banks are all Australian-owned—thanks to policies championed by the business elites—the banks ship their profits back to Australia, and that loses money that could be re-invested here (and, without a hint of irony, Thompson condemns Kiwis for buying foreign shares, even though doing so is the reverse of what the banks do: bringing profits made overseas back here).

Also, a case can certainly be made that government deficit spending—particularly in a recession—is a good thing to do, not something to be condemned. That is, of course, if one believes that government has a duty to its people, and doesn’t treat them like the business elites want.

Business elites like the EPMA see us as resources to be used: Our labours to make their products and services, our money to buy their goods and services and our savings to allow their businesses to expand until they can sell out to foreign owners (which the elites believe should be the ultimate goal for all business).

Blaming ordinary people for the lack of cheap domestic credit for business lets those businesses off the hook completely. Perhaps they could look at how their own bad behaviours—greedy exploits that have wrecked ordinary folks’ confidence in corporate governance, for example—have helped create this mess they’re in.

Ultimately, business elites, business journalists and conservative politicians all need to keep in mind two simple things: First, they serve us, not the other way around—without us, they could not exist. Second, many of us love life in New Zealand and money isn’t our sole motivator, nor is consumption our only goal. They can pontificate as much as they want about how awful it is in New Zealand, how much better it is somewhere else, but that doesn’t make it true.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Canadian common sense

Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia MP, sent his constituents a holiday card with a family photo on the cover, as many MPs—and many politicians in Western countries—do. However, Brison is gay and the photo was of him, his husband and their dog. You can imagine how incensed the perpetually outraged brigade became.

The situation became so bad that the Globe and Mail had to shut down its comments section for their article, saying:

“Editor's Note: Comments have been closed due to an overwhelming number of hateful and homophobic remarks. We appreciate that readers want to discuss this issue, but we can't allow our site to become a platform for intolerance.”

Over the years I’ve seen the comments sections of newspapers in the US—and throughout the English-speaking world, including, sadly, here in New Zealand—become “a platform for intolerance” when the perpetually outraged brigade hijacks them. Whether they’re attacking GLBT people, people of other races/cultures or just anyone even slightly left of centre, their need to attack is seemingly never satisfied.

While I’ve seen attacking comments frequently, especially against GLBT people, I’ve seldom seen a newspaper do anything about it. Sometimes they disable their comments without explanation. I certainly can’t recall ever seeing a newspaper take the sensible, positive approach that the Globe and Mail did, and I’ve definitely never seen a paper take such a strong stand against homophobia and anti-gay hatred.

Some may decry cutting off all debate and discussion because of the hatred spewed by some commenters, but it’s a clear and easy solution. Other papers take a different approach: Moderation of comments and removal of offensive ones. However, that requires that someone make a judgment on what’s permissible. It’s true that most forums—including comments sections—have rules for behaviour for participants, but many folks don’t bother to read them and many in the perpetually outraged brigade deliberately ignore them.

Part of the coarsening of civil discourse can, I believe, be blamed on the unrestricted anonymous vitriol posted on the Internet. If commenting rules—and civility—were strictly enforced, if it was made abundantly clear that coarse, crude and irrational attacks won’t be tolerated, then we may yet be able to restore some civility to discussions of politics and public policy.

What it all boils down to is that people can have strongly differing opinions without being jerks about it.

A tip o’ the chapeau to Slap Upside the Head.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Insurance shill gets served

I couldn’t possibly care less what Joe Lieberman has to say about, well, anything. In this video, John McCain—another Republican about whom I couldn’t possibly care less—pontificates on behalf of “The Senator for Aetna”, Joe Lieberman. Yes, well, one loser to another, I suppose.

Update: It turns out John McCain was lying—in 2002, he himself objected when a Senator wanted extra time to criticise the war. So he's nothing more than another Republican who's grandstanding knowing full well he's guilty of what he's complaining about. Plenty of other Senators have done the same thing as Senator Franken did, too, so there's absolutely nothing new about it, despite McCain's pontificating.

Healthcare reform: What I think, too

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has read this blog, but I completely agree with this Special Comment by Keith Olbermann: There’s nothing I can add. Preach to me all you want about this bill, about “party unity” about how important it is to deliver a win to President Obama, and I may even agree with you—strategically—but Keith has said exactly what I’m thinking. Watch—if you dare.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Five hours of religious ‘dialogue‘

For five hours, a progressive Anglican church in Auckland was challenging traditional Christian assumptions and attempting to open a dialogue on those beliefs. Clearly that couldn’t be allowed to last.

St Matthew-in-the-City erected the billboard above at 11am this morning and around 4pm ONE News caught a man in the act of painting brown paint over the faces and headline. The news didn’t indentify the vandal nor get a statement from him (though they did show his face plenty of times). Predictably, the usual assortment of fundamentalist Protestants had condemned the billboard, as did the Roman Catholic Church.

To me, as an outsider, the “controversy” looked like a family fight among cousins who don’t really much like each other very much. This has always puzzled me about the right wing: They have far more to gain by working in unity with other Christians when they can, but more often than not they seem hell-bent, as it were, on trashing other Christians.

Oddly, a comment on the TVNZ story neatly explained why fundamentalists are so cocksure (as it were) that they alone speak for all Christians. The commenter wrote:
The word christian (sic) means 'someone belonging to Christ'. Here's a clue into what's happening here. Some people call themselves christian & don't believe what the Bible says, putting up such a poster & others live their lives as Jesus did. There's a saying that goes 'standing in a garage doesn't make you a car', anymore than 'going to church makes you a christian'. It's about a personal relationship with God with changed attitudes & life style. [emphasis added]
So, to this fundamentalist, “real” Christians are those who “live their lives as Jesus did” (what, in Israel?). In my mainstream Protestant upbringing, we were taught that the Christian bible was “the inspired word of god”, whereas to fundamentalists it’s the literal, absolute dictated word of their god. That’s why the commenter said, “Some people call themselves christian & don't believe what the Bible says”.

That of course neatly gets around the very human origins of the texts now called the New Testament, a document cobbled together as much for political reasons as ecclesiastic ones. It also avoids the problem posed by different translations and the differing interpretations they cause—their favoured version is the only one that matters.

So, the fundamentalists define the word “Christian” in a way that can only mean themselves and which deliberately casts other Christians—especially liberals and progressives—as NOT Christian. It also allows them to feel self-satisfied as “victims” whenever they have to confront the reality that plenty of Christians don’t agree with them.

I wasn’t offended by the billboard, of course, but I don’t think it’s very good. All good propaganda has to have an easily identified message, and when carried on a billboard, it has to be clear. It’s probably not the best place to try and open a dialogue on religious beliefs. However, the fact that it might offend some Christians is not an argument for suppression, censorship or vandalism. Whatever happened to “turn the other cheek”?

A new front in the Christmas war

I’ve always thought that the right wing’s bleating about their imaginary “War on Christmas” is as hilarious as it is absurd. It’s mostly a way for the entertainers on Fox Opinion channel to rile up their viewers—all sound and fury signifying nothing (which is kind of par for the course on Fox, of course).

But another group of Christians is taking the position I would’ve thought the right wing would do: Take the emphasis off the massive spending spree. They call themselves the “Advent Conspiracy” and they intend to get back to what Christians are supposed to believe the season is all about.

The TIME Magazine article linked to above says:

“In many ways, Advent Conspiracy has appropriated some of the traditional arguments of the conservative Christians who see themselves as defenders of Christmas. A popular rallying cry of the foot soldiers in the war on Christmas is "Jesus is the reason for the season." Often, however, it seems that being able to score a half-price Nintendo DSi and a "Merry Christmas" from the checkout clerk is the real prize. The Religious Right has spent decades casting secular culture as the enemy. And yet instead of critiquing the values of the consumer marketplace, many conservative Christians have embraced it as the battleground they seek to reclaim.”

That’s all clearly true. Personally, I think that’s because the right-wing christianist leaders are less interested in Christianity than they are in power.

I have no idea what these people’s brand of Christianity is the rest of the year. For all I know, I might not like them or their views any more than I like the rightwing christianists. However, at the very least, they’re presenting what’s more like my idea of what Christians ought to be saying about what’s supposed to be one of their holiest days.

At least we know that Fox won’t take up this position.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Australia’s slippery slope

The Australian Government has announced that early in the new year Parliament will pass a new law making Internet filtering mandatory to keep Australians from being able to access illegal or “harmful” sites on the Internet. The plan has been widely attacked not only in Australia, but around the world.

And with good reason: The potential for abuse and the curtailment of freedom is huge.

The Australian Christian Lobby has called for tighter filtering of R and X-rated sites, though the current government is apparently “unlikely to support” their wish. But it’s clear that if John Howard were still Prime Minister, the christianists would get what they want.

And therein lies the problem: The Australian Labor Party won’t be in government forever, and without some strong protections it’s entirely possible that a future right-wing government in Australia will decide to—as critics charge—make Australia’s Internet filtering as tight and oppressive as that of China or Iran.

This move is fraught with danger for freedom and liberty. Since the government is hell-bent on enacting mandatory filtering, Australians will have to be vigilant to prevent “mission creep”. Otherwise, the rest of the world may start talking about “Australia’s Great Internet Barrier Reef” preventing its citizens from having freedom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmastime in the city

The familiar signs of Christmas are all around—and summer weather is here more often than not. The photo of a Pohutukawa tree above was taken a couple weeks ago on The Strand in Takapuna, not far from the beach. It was a young tree, but especially full—perfect for a few photos.

The photo below was taken by looking to my left (the tree I was photographing is visible on the right-hand side of the photo). I didn’t go down to the beach because Jake was with me and we’re still keeping him far away from North Shore beaches, as we have since August.

This summer I hope to take even more photos of Auckland.

The National garage sale coming soon

New Zealand is on the road to recovery, the Treasury said today. That means that job loss will slow and the economy will contract by about a third of what had been previously expected. Good news, right?

Not if you’re part of the National Party-led Government. Already having cut spending, and planning more cuts, Finance Minister Bill English has been using the Treasury report to continue preparing New Zealand for a massive sell-off of state-owned assets. In the last election, the party promised that there would be no sale of state-owned assets (apart from the sale-by-stealth of ACC) during a National first term.

But they continue to argue that they “must” sell off the family jewels. Among the things that English thinks the government should sell off to the highest foreign bidder is Kiwi Rail (because, we all know how well that was run the last time foreigners owned it…), TVNZ (because TV3 is clearly the best TV there is) and NZ Post because by selling off the post office National gets bonus points among right-wingers for also selling off Kiwibank to foreigners—leaving TSB as the only bank of any size in New Zealand not owned by foreigners.

If one is feeling charitable, one can say that the National Party is a laissez-faire conservative party—they believe that government should do as little as possible, apart from making things easier for big business, and it should own virtually nothing. In the past, this antique attitude led them to avoid using tax policy to encourage national goals, meaning later governments had to spend money to fix problems that even a tiny bit of government action could’ve prevented.

I’m not charitable, of course, and I would argue that many of the National Party caucus are not really laissez-faire but, instead, corporatist—interested only in promoting the interests of big business, especially foreign corporations.

Either interpretation can explain why National is hell-bent on selling off everything that’s not nailed down—and things that are, too. As they continue to try and prepare the New Zealand public for their inevitable garage sale of the people’s property, National will deliberately distort the situation to make their case. We must not let them get away with it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Time for a second slap!

Good news! My Canadian e-friend Mark’s site Slap Upside the Head has made it through to the final round of voting in the Canadian Blog Awards! Time to mosey on over there and give Mark another slap, um, vote (anyone in the world can vote, but you can vote only once from a given IP address).

In case you missed my previous campaigning for Mark, this year’s Awards are being selected using a preferential voting system. So, if you don’t know any of the other nominees, rank Mark as Number One, and you’ll help him win.

As I’ve said many times before, Slap Upside the Head is one of my most favourtist sites, and I’m glad to help campaign for him from the Antipodes.

Mark is a finalist in the GLBT, Blog Post and Photo/Art categories.

Thanks for your help!

Republicans get busy

The US Republican Party is out to prove that it’s not just “the party of ‘no’”, and that they work hard for taxpayers, taking on the huge, truly important issues of the day. Like, Christmas.

House Resolution 951 was introduced December 8 by Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr. (R-SC-1) and will, if passed, unleash the power of Congress on those who wage “War on Christmas”. H. Res. 951 will express “the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas”. The resolution says:

“Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and

Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and

(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

"These are your hard-earned tax dollars at work: with millions of Americans looking for jobs and the nation's unemployment rate nearing 10 percent… it's unacceptable for Congress to take it easy at a time when out-of-work families struggling to make ends meet are asking 'where are the jobs?'" That was said by the Republican Leader in the US House, John Boehner, six weeks ago. Mind you, the same day Boehner said that, his Republicans were introducing an empty resolution pandering to the teabaggers, so clearly he can’t influence his caucus.

As of today, this resolution is cosponsored by 64 Representatives—all Republicans, of course, and including some of the craziest members of the House of Representatives. The lone Democratic co-sponsor, Danny Davis (D-IL-7) sensibly withdrew as a cosponsor a couple days later.

The point isn’t this resolution—it’s pointless, not evil—but it shows clearly how the Republicans are just like Democrats in pushing pointless resolutions. However, unlike Democrats, Republicans are doing nothing else—apart from shouting “no” to everything Democrats propose and “yes” to empty resolutions that allow Republicans to “take it easy at a time when out-of-work families struggling to make ends meet are asking 'where are the jobs?'”

Tip o' the Hat to StopBeck on Twitter for link to the original story.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sometimes hate loses

Houston, Texas City Controller Annise Parker has won the election to become the city’s next mayor. It will make Houston the largest US city with an openly-gay mayor. Houston is the US' fourth-largest city (the top three are New York, the largest, Los Angeles and Chicago).

In her campaign against former City Attorney Gene Locke, Parker faced a vicious homophobic campaign waged by the area’s evangelical churches. This time, the forces of intolerance and bigotry finally failed. Well done, Houston.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God. for the link.

The politics of hate

Those of us on the centre or left are told repeatedly that we mustn’t call christianist extremists “bigots” or to say they’re motivated by hatred. The underlying assumption is that “moderates” are incapable of understanding the difference between christianist extremists and real Christians. Condescension aside, the main problem with that is it lets people who practice hate off the hook when they should be called out on it.

There's no better example of the hatred of the christianist far right than their actions in Uganda, a country which looks about to enact a law mandating execution or life in prison, in some cases, for gay people. It also makes failing to report gay people to the government a crime resulting in a prison sentence. If a gay person fled Uganda, the new law will make their “crime” extraditable.

A veritable who’s who of the American christianist far right has been involved in this, including “The Family”, a secretive christianist extremist cult that includes the leading far right christianist Republicans in the US Congress. They’ve been aided and abetted by the “ex-gay” quackery industry and also the infamous “evangelist” Rick Warren.

The newsmedia, and especially the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, have been following this story relentlessly and have been asking the christianists and the Republicans who have been so involved in Ugandan politics to denounce the bill and to use their influence to stop it. While some of them did denounce the bill—within the US only—none of them did anything to try and stop the bill.

Finally, after weeks of public lobbying, Rick Warren belatedly issued a video denouncing the bill and urging Uganda to drop it. Even the White House issued a denunciation, after the GLBT The Advocate asked him to.

But The Guardian is reporting that author of the “kill the gays” bill says it will proceed intact. The far right christianists were doing in Uganda only what they want to do everywhere. Most of them will freely admit that they want homosexuality criminalised in the West, and their actions in Uganda are only an extreme version of what they want. Their US-only condemnations, with their total lack of effort whatsoever to actually stop the bill, underscores this: They want to hoodwink rational people in the US into thinking the far right doesn’t approve of the bill when, in fact, they certainly do approve.

If the bill becomes law, we’ll see Western countries wring their hands—and refuse to anything to punish Uganda. We’ll hear how deplorable the bill is, how it’s not appropriate behavior for a country in the “family of nations”, and similar words. However, the next sentence from countries around the world will begin with “But…”, and they will do nothing.

There are times when decent people are called upon to stand up to evil. This is one of those times: It’s time to end the politics of hate.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shopping on Easter

New Zealand has three and a half days in which shops in most of the country must be closed: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning. Last night, Parliament held a conscience vote on liberalising trading on Easter somewhat, and it lost 59 for to 62 against. Every time attempts have been made to open up trading at Easter, it’s been beaten back.

There are some problems with the current law: Shops in certain designated tourist areas—some tourist areas, not all—can open, as can some other business that sell services, not goods. For example, a video store can rent you movies, but can’t sell you any. A beauty parlour could do your hair, but couldn’t sell you shampoo. In practice, most businesses close for those three and a half days.

The right has long demanded that the trading bans be abolished. They argue that whether a person works on those holidays should be a matter negotiated between workers and the business owner. I think that’s typical muddle-headed conservative thinking: The power relationship for retail workers almost always favours the employer. That means that a retail worker ordered to work on these days would have two choices: Comply or quit.

That’s fine with the right, who have this Pollyanna-like view of what the labour market is like for lower paid workers (perhaps because they themselves are not at that level). The reality for many of these workers is that they’d have no choice but to comply with their employer’s demands.

Clearly the right thinks it isn’t any of the government’s concern, and if lower-paid workers suffer because of a change to trading laws, well, tough. Labour unions and the left are adamant that workers should be protected from exploitation, and they support maintaining the existing ban.

Personally, I think if we can’t go three and a half days without buying stuff, then there’s something seriously wrong with us. I also see nothing wrong with government protecting workers, especially lower paid workers, from exploitation. If the right really believes that this is an infringement on the rights of business owners, let them make that case to the voters of New Zealand and enlist their support in a change. Right now, they clearly don’t have it.

How they voted:

Among Government MPs, all but nine of the National Party’s 58 MPs voted for the Bill; voting against it were Shane Ardern (Taranaki-King Country), Chester Borrows (Whanganui), Bill English (Clutha-Southland ), Phil Heatley (Whangarei), Sam Lotu-Iiga (Maungakiekie), Tim Macindoe (Hamilton West), Eric Roy (Invercargill), Katrina Shanks (List), Jonathan Young (New Plymouth). All five Act Party MPs voted in favour of the bill. United Future’s Peter Dunne voted in favour. Maori Party Co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples voted in favour, as did party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, while Rahui Katene voted against (Hone Harawira didn't vote).

Among the Opposition, all 43 Labour Party MPs voted against the bill, except for Steve Chadwick (she’s from Rotorua, which would’ve benefited from the change). All nine Greens voted against the bill. Jim Anderton of the Progressive Party also voted against the bill.

About this techno testing

Lately I’ve been trying out something I’ve never done much of before: Using WiFi to do various things. Things have a long way to go before the dream of “ubiquitous computing” (access to the power of computing, and the Internet in particular, anytime, anywhere) becomes an affordable reality.

At the moment, anyone wanting to have mobile access to the Internet needs to have a data plan with a mobile phone company, but that’s expensive compared to any home plan. Both the major mobile companies in New Zealand now offer pre-paid options for people who don’t have enough data demands to justify an account with a carrier but, as with pre-paid voice calling, the rates charged are significantly higher than what’s charged to people who are billed.

The other option is WiFi, and many places offer access to their network—for a fee. Some places, like coffee houses, will offer free access to customers who purchase something, which is fine if you want coffee or whatever.

These days, there are a lot of devices that can access WiFi networks, and it’s those that I’ve been playing with. For example, I recently got Nigel’s iPod Touch handed down to me and I’ve installed apps to access Twitter and to allow me to post to my blog using it and WiFi (I also tried using Safari on it to post to Twitter).

I did a “test post” to this blog yesterday using an app called BlogPressLite, which is free for Blogger users (it only supports Blogger blogs; the paid version allows users to post to Wordpress and pretty much all others I’ve heard of). It works pretty well, though, of course, I had to tidy up the post a bit on the web.

I also tried a couple Twitter apps, Echofon and Twitterific. Despite the raves I got for the latter, it didn’t seem dramatically better than Echofon. I didn’t really like Twitterific on the desktop, so I didn’t expect much. I don’t think that it’s as easy to use as the desktop (which isn’t saying much), but I have to admit it has a lot of nice features that Echofon doesn’t. Both are free (my main requirement for a Twitter app for the iPod Touch, since I’ll rarely use it for Twitter).

I tried all these connecting through our home WiFi network. Today I’m accessing the web at an Esquires Coffee House using my Macbook. That works really well, as it should, of course; I’ve just never tried it before. This post and the previous were both posted that way.

So that’s what’s been up with me trying all these things on Twitter and here.