}

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Every queen’s birthday

This is Queen’s Birthday, the last public holiday until Labour Weekend at the end of October. So, I’m spending time with Nigel and the family.

Tomorrow, the National-led government will announce the “Queen’s Birthday Honours List,” including the first knights and dames since their ill-advised restoration of knighthoods after National won power in the last election. I don’t expect to take any notice of the list, which isn’t unusual.

Right now, I’m more concerned about the “sub-Antarctic blast” bringing frigid temperatures to most of the North Island, including us. Late this afternoon, the temperature dropped about four degrees (Celsius, of course) in a matter of minutes.

And the title of this post? Apparently this weekend used to be huge on the gay calendar in New Zealand, with Sunday of Queen’s Birthday Weekend an especially big day in the gay pubs and clubs. I never experienced any of that, and have no idea what it’s like now. But it’s always fun to have a second birthday.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Marriage equality buffet

More and more videos that illustrate different aspects of the marriage equality debate are popping up on YouTube. So, I thought today I’d show three of my favourites among recent videos.

First up, one of my favourite folks on YouTube, Rob Tisinai. This is actually the third of his videos I’ve posted, and he’s deserved every one of those postings. He puts thing better than any blogger I know.



Next is the latest video from YouTuber Keith Hartman, who’s launched a series of videos to educate people about what the opponents of marriage equality aren’t saying: What their insistence on forcing their religion on everyone else would lead to.



Finally, “’Fidelity’: Join the Movement to Repeal Prop 8”, the latest commercial from the CourageCampaign seeking to restore marriage equality in California. A short video, it quickly calls out some of the arguments used by the opponents of marriage equality. Marriage equality will be restored to California sooner, rather than later.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More sentiments

Roger Green posted a great piece on swearing over on his blog, and linked to one of my posts from three weeks ago, My sentiments exactly, in which I posted the anti-bigotry video, “The Big Fat Gay Collab!”. Though the language is NSFW, the music changes it somewhat and, of course, the whole thing makes a point.

But that reminded me that I recently came across a French version of the same thing, “The GayClic Collab Against Homophobia (from France)” (video below, and the language is still NSFW, of course). It was put together by GayClic, who had more than 100 videos contributed to them. This version includes the anti-war verse of the song that was omitted from the original video I linked to before. It’s also kind of remarkable to see people whose first language is, I assume, not English lip synching in the language pretty well.

In this case, the song and the videos are using “swear words” to make a political point (as well as art). There are some people who say swearing can never, or seldom, be justified (such people had better not move to New Zealand!). As a long-time potty mouth, I obviously disagree. But considering that language is constantly evolving and changing, and swear words pass away, I wonder: Can there be anything that’s really forbidden? I @#$%& hope not! (and thanks to Roger, I now know that representation of swearing is called a grawlix. There really is a word for everything—seems to me that some clean words kinda don’t sound that way…

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

California and time

Today the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that re-banned same-sex marriage in the state. In doing so, it was playing its part in California’s drama, but only a part. I think this saga tells us a lot about the nature of our opponents.

This whole drama began, most people think, when the California Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian people had the right to marry under the California Constitution. However, the California legislature passed marriage equality twice, and the Republican governor vetoed it twice. His thinking on the issue has never been particularly rational or consistent, but his double vetoes set the stage for the Court intervention. It was the willingness of the legislature to enact marriage equality that motivated the religious activists, and they would have acted regardless of what made that equality happen.

The religious right got their measure on the ballot and passed it with a small—but clear—majority of votes. Legal challenges were mounted, and today the court has upheld the right of the people to amend their constitution, even if doing so strips away fundamental rights.

This was a legally correct, but morally bankrupt decision. In a democracy, people have the right to take away the rights of the minority, even though it’s immoral to actually do so. The Prop 8 ruling violated every concept of universal justice in order to uphold the injustice of the majority deciding to take away the rights of a minority.

And yet, ultimately, this will be the best thing to have happened: Marriage equality came to California by judicial fiat, something that many people—not all of them on the knuckle-dragging end of the right wing—find, at best, troubling. The speed of the change left the court ahead of the people, and the anti-equality campaign capitalised on that.

The pro-equality side, faced with a barrage of lies, smears and distortions, started branding everyone who supported Prop 8 as bigots, homophobes and even christo-fascists. I’ve argued many times that there’s no rational reason for anyone to oppose marriage equality, but that doesn’t mean those opponents are bigots or worse (even if some demonstrably were).

In my opinion, something else is going on here, something that explains our opponents: Fear.

Human beings are naturally suspicious of change and can be fearful of it, particularly when it’s sudden and seemingly imposed, something beyond their control. The right has always known this and has exploited it to keep the pro-equality forces on the back foot, constantly in defensive mode.

The winner on the Prop 8 debate would always have been the side that successfully addressed the fears of voters. The Yes on 8 folks pandered to and exploited that fear, while the No on 8 people did nothing (they could have shown, for example, there was nothing to fear).

When change is allowed to evolve, to emerge organically, people have time to accept it. That change then becomes the new reality that people are reluctant to change. So, when states in the northeast of the US moved through the legislative process to legalise marriage equality, people had time to adapt and that new reality instantly became stronger. When legislatures adopt marriage equality, it starts with a significant backing—elected politicians seldom lead on any issue out of fear of defeat at the ballot box. They support change because the majority of their constituents already do.

When marriage equality is imposed by courts, there’s an almost automatic reluctance to accept it, even a predisposition to fight it. Court-ordered marriage equality in Massachusetts looked at first like it may not survive, but five years later it finally looks like it may last—thanks to time. The other northeastern states that passed marriage equality through the legislature start ahead of where Massachusetts was (not that this will stop the anti-equality forces from trying to repeal it).

This delay infuriates some—those who want it all and they want it now. But real change seldom happens like that.

By the time the US Supreme Court finally struck down laws preventing people of different races from marrying, most states had already moved past that. On the issue of marriage equality, we’ve seen courts leading. This may have worked in Massachusetts and it may work in Iowa (where there may no quick opportunity for anti-equality activists to fight it, giving it time to become the new reality). But in California, this clearly wasn’t the case, and couldn’t have been because the activists had already been working to outlaw marriage equality no matter how it had been enacted; there could be no time between enactment and the decision on whether to repeal it or not.

So, where does this leave us? We need time. We need to allay people’s fear of change, especially on this issue. We need to engage with our friends, family, co-workers—in short, everyone we know—and explain to them calmly why this issue matters. It’s the way change has been created for generations. It’s not quick, it’s messy, it’s loaded with setbacks, but ultimately it’s successful.

Pro-equality activists in California are already promising new ballot initiatives to restore marriage equality, and that’s exactly the right thing to do. Already polls are showing that, thanks to time, voters in California are shifting their position and becoming less likely to listen to the fear mongering from the right. Our side just needs to give voters the time and help they need to go the rest of the way. Once they vote to restore marriage equality—and they will, even if it takes several tries—that finally will be the end of the matter.

So, distressing as this Court ruling may be, and as bad on some points as it was, it’s a bump on the road to victory. Like I’ve said so many times before, keep your eyes on the prize—but take everyone you know along with you. We can’t get there any other way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Irony

There are some people who claim that Americans just don’t get irony. Today provided an example so rich and deep that even the most obtuse must’ve seen it.

Actor and ├╝ber-Catholic Mel Gibson announced that his girlfriend is pregnant—you know, out of wedlock! They had pre-marital sex! On the other hand, she clearly wasn’t on the pill, so they dodged a bullet labelled “mortal sin”.

Normally I wouldn’t take any notice of pregnancies among celebrities or their girlfriends, but Gibson has gone out of his way to promote “traditional” “family” values, and conservative Roman Catholic theology. Now he’s become a living example of irony—and hypocrisy.

Dickhead of the Day: Jim Gibbons

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons vetoed a domestic partnership bill that would have offered a few of the rights and privileges of marriage in that state. Gibbons, a 64-year-old Republican, believed that the law “conflicts” with the state’s 2002 constitutional amendment establishing man-lady marriage as the only kind recognised in the state.

The bill Gibbons vetoed would’ve ended some discrimination against domestic partners by giving them the same community property and debt rights as married couples. It would have been open to same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike.

Gibbons, a Mormon and former lawyer, said that if “domestic partners” want to get a few of the meagre provisions of the bill he vetoed, they can always sign private contracts. One assumes he wasn’t a very good lawyer, or he’d know that such contracts are woefully inadequate. Or, maybe he’s just a very good Mormon, because that church, contrary to its earlier suggestions, has indicated opposition to any kind of formal recognition of same-sex relationships, including Nevada's marriage-lite-lite domestic partnerships.

Add it all up and Jim Gibbons is the Dickhead of the Day.

Update 01 June 2009: The Nevada legislature has overridden Gibbons’ wrongheaded veto. The state's Assembly voted today (Sunday, local time) 28-14 to override, following the state Senate's 14-7 vote yesterday. Both were barely what was needed to override. A large part of the credit for the victory has been given to the Nevada casino industry, which lobbied hard for the bill and then for the override.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Making a statement

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will this week announce new rules for the department, treating same-sex and opposite-sex couples in the foreign service the same. It continues a trend we’ve seen a lot lately.

Under the old rules, same-sex partners of diplomats were treated worse than a family pet, as 26-year diplomatic veteran Michael Guest put it. He quit Bush’s State Department because he was being forced to choose between his partner—his family—and service to his country. His family won.

In practice, this meant that the State Department didn’t provide any support for same-sex partners of diplomats, such as no payment for moving costs, no anti-terrorism personal security training, no evacuation if there was a security emergency or for medical reasons.

Part of the problem has been that the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) makes it illegal for any part of the federal government to treat same-sex couples the same as married couples. The State Department will get around that by extending identical benefits to opposite-sex unmarried couples, too.

Still, the christianist right will scream about this. In the comments, to the above-linked article, it would appear that many can’t read, asking if opposite-sex couples would also be covered (it clearly says they will be) or else it would be discrimination! Many were also unable to stay on topic, bringing in the usual irrelevant religious nonsense, as they always do, and preaching bizarre theories, such as that this policy will lead to a mass gay takeover of the diplomatic service.

What this represents is further incremental change, similar to others we’ve seen lately. The comments represent what’s holding back change in the US. I’ll be commenting further on all that, soon. For now, though, well done Hillary, and another example of how very different and better the Obama Administration is than its predecessor.

Tip o’ the hat to Nancy in Japan for the story I linked to.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

TimeScroller

Yesterday I mentioned Widgets for the Macintosh Dashboard, and I thought today I’d promote one of my favourites: TimeScroller is a simple widget created by Terry Brett for tracking times in up to 20 cities. It’s available as a Dashboard Widget for Mac OSX, as well as an Application for the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

It tracks the time in cities that the user selects (mine has cities selected specifically so that I can keep track of time zones, especially in North America). These times automatically change for daylight savings time.

But it’s far more than just that: That little scroll bar at the bottom allows the user to determine what a given time in one city will be in the other ones, up to roughly three days in advance (the screenshot above shows a sample of this). This is a great way to plan a time to meet-up online with someone in another time zone. For example, if I want to meet friends or family on Skype, I use TimeScroller to determine the relevant time for them. Once I’ve found the times I want, I can click the little email icon in the lower left, and it opens a blank email with all the times listed—you just add your recipient(s) and a new subject line if you want.

If there’s an event you want to plan for that’s more than three days in advance, you can work it out from what TimeScroller displays, or you can use an online time conversion site. I use timeanddate.com, at first because I could remember the URL, but now because of all its features. Among other things, they offer customisable web clocks (and counters) that can be put on any site. I use their web clocks for showing New Zealand time and Chicago time on this blog and my podcast site.

The reason for all of this is, of course, that my family and many friends live in the US. Fortunately, in more than 13 years I’ve only had a couple phone calls in the middle of the night. These tools help us all stay in touch, without late night calls, which makes them great tools for expats.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

An improvement

Today’s weather finally improved. In fact, we actually had a sunny day for a change, though the temperature was warmer earlier today. Obviously the nice weather won't last, but it was nice to have a respite from the cold, dreary, rainy days we’ve had lately.

This screen shot shows a couple of the standard Macintosh Dashboard widgets, which are incredibly useful. The bottom one does a whole bunch of conversions, from weights and measures and speed through to currency. But none of that helps if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Today, at least, it did.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Random shots

There are plenty of things that don’t deserve full blog posts and, if I’m lucky, sometimes I can group them all together, like now:

Worst candidate ever

The by-election in the Mt. Albert electorate is proving interesting—sort of. In the last election, former Prime Minister Helen Clark had a huge majority. It was to be expected that Labour would win the election, but if it’s possible for a candidate to run a worse campaign than the National Party's candidate, Melissa “Stumble-per-day” Lee, I’ve never seen it. She has been out of her depth, ill prepared, blind-sided by her party and just plain terrible all at once. I mean this: I’ve never seen a worse or more inept candidate than Melissa Lee, and she deserves to lose in a huge landslide, but probably won’t. Points to a far right party's candidate who declared to the media that the contest was between him and Labour, even though he knows he’s likely to come in dead last (deservedly so, I must fervently add). And barbs of the most pointed kind to the Greens for interfering in an election they cannot possibly win.

Update 14/06/09: Last night, as expected, Labour's David Shearer won handily—a majorty of 9187, down some 1400 votes from the majority won by former Prime Minister and Mt Albert MP Helen Clark last November. Shearer won some 63% of the vote, with the hapless Melissa Lee of National in Second place (17%), the Greens' Russel Norman was third (12%) and the neoconservative candidate came in fourth—dead last among the main parties contesting the electorate, with a pathetic 4%.

Auckland’s board of directors

The National-led Government today announced the all-powerful board that will oversee the transition to the New Auckland™. It’s filled with folks favoured by big business and the National-led Government. Well, no, actually it’s filled with people that the neo-conservative ACT Party likes, which is even farther to the right. Can the people and democracy still have their due? Time will tell, but ultimately this has little to do with the transition board: The fight is in Parliament over the bill to set-up the actual structure of the new city's new government.

America STILL got it wrong

The final of American Idol aired in New Zealand tonight—first the final head-to-head competition, then the results. I still think Adam should have won. However, I think that, for him, it’s better that he didn’t: MOST American idols fade to irrelevance, but the also-rans have careers. Freed from the straitjacket of Idol, Adam can be a big star. Of the two, I’m far more likely to buy an album from Adam than Kris.

Winter sux

I don’t care what hemisphere you’re in nor what month it begins, winter is always the worst season. Those of you who disagree are clearly wrong, and I’m happy to educate you on how winter oppresses us summer-centric folk, denying our legitimate cultural aspirations for summery-relevant, um, stuff. You wintry folk are obviously oppressing us with your racist, elitist power matrix. And why I should spout such bullshit will be clear in time…

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Which end is up?

I took this photo of Jake this morning as he napped on the sofa. The thing about a dog with thick black fur is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell which end is which. Care is required before delivering kisses, but he’s worth it.

Actually, his dark fur means that sometimes I can’t see him at all, regardless of where his ends are, like if he’s sleeping on the bed before I make it in the morning, while the curtains are still closed. Kind of keeps things interesting.

This little piggy…

This Little PiggyEvery now and then, television can really stir things up. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does it has real value—including entertainment value, if we’re honest.

This past weekend, TVNZ’s Sunday programme broadcast a special report on pig farming in New Zealand. It was bound to be controversial, using comedian Mike King as the hook. Until late last year, King was the spokesperson for NZ Pork in commercials hawking their products. King has had a change of heart and is now speaking out against the pig farming practice of “dry crates”—very small metal cages in which sows are forced to live.

King went undercover—and illegally—onto a pig farm with the animal rights group S.A.F.E. and filmed the conditions—sows unable to turn around or even to move. Pigs chomped on the metal bars and one was lying dead.

New Zealand still allows these crates for pigs kept inside; they’re not the same as “sow crates” where sows are kept for a short time while they suckle their piglets. The dry crates are meant to house pigs for a relatively short time, but some are kept in them for years. Such crates have been banned in much of the developed world, but the previous Labour-led Government codified permission for them into law, pending a future review.

The pork producers’ lobby group claims that such bad practices are rare, but neither they—nor we—can know that for sure. They say that the industry is phasing out the crates, but they claim a huge cost per pig in converting. They also point out such practices are legal,

Indeed they are: S.A.F.E. alerted the authorities to the piggery they visited with Mike King, but Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries officials found the operation—horrible and disgusting as it was—was also perfectly legal. The owner, a former official with NZ Pork, hit out at the activists, claiming they stirred up the pigs, that they deliberately distressed them to get better video. Farmers say producers’ cost of production would be too high if they switched to free-range, and their margins too low. Whatever.

The fact is, supermarket shoppers have no way of knowing which pork comes from such terrible conditions and which are barn-raised or free range (apart from Freedom Farms, whose products are exclusively free range—and quite nice, btw). At the moment, free range products—labelled as such—cost a lot more than ordinary pork products, in part because of lack of supply, but also because they're usually organic, too. But that premium is eased wherever the crates are outlawed—increasing supply leads to falling prices (the word for this is “capitalism”).

We’ve seen this before: The demand for free-range eggs has been increasing, and free-range and barn-raised eggs are now clearly labelled, and the price difference between them and ordinary eggs from caged hens has shrunk pretty dramatically (like a lot of people I know, I now only buy free-range eggs).

So, while NZ Pork is being a little disingenuous about costs, if the pubic pressure keeps up we’ll see them tripping all over themselves to get ride of crates. And, the price of pork products raised in better conditions will drop. That’s at the heart of capitalism—the law of supply and demand. After all, “the consumer is king”.

Monday, May 18, 2009

IDAHO 2009: One Voice, One Message



This video was created as part of the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHo), using clips submitted by individuals from around the world. It was an interesting idea, though seemed slightly off to me. Ultimately this relates to one indisputable fact: Homophobia wanes when people personally know someone who is gay or lesbian. Imagine if one day there’s a video like this that takes hours to get through because there are so many proud, out people. Better yet, imagine a day when this sort of things is totally unnecessary. While we’re a long way from that day, videos like this help.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Screams from the past

Writing about memories, as I have been lately, is bound to resurrect long-forgotten traumas and horror. Or, maybe not: I can’t think of anything from my past that justifies those descriptions.

However, after reading one of these Memories posts, my sister recently reminded me of something from our shared past: We were kids and on our annual family camping trip in Wisconsin. She apparently chased me around with a bucket containing crayfish*. She says I screamed. I have no memory of this at all, but I bet the bucket was a pale yellow plastic one with a white grip on the handle (those are the sorts of things I do remember). My sister apparently had a good time chasing me.

I got my own back a few years later: I was with some friends and found a little bird that had fallen out of its nest. I picked up the bird and walked around the corner to our house and got there just as my sister walked out the front door. I told her to look at what I had, and opened my hands to show her the bird. She screamed and took off running. I chased her, a little bewildered. She kept screaming, and running, and I realised that this was great fun—and very funny. I chased her all the way to her friend’s house around the corner and down the street. My sister later told me that her reaction was because a friend had recently found a bird’s nest and picked it up and her arms became covered with fleas. I have absolutely no memory of what I did with the bird.

A few years again and Halloween was nearing. One of the two movie theatres in our city’s downtown (they’re both long gone) was having a triple feature of monster movies (including “Brides of Dracula”). My sister took me to the movies. In the middle of the event, staff in monster costumes came to the front of the auditorium and said, “don’t be surprised if you feel a presence next to you…” and they cut the lights. It was pitch black and people screamed. I don’t remember if either of us screamed, but I do remember we grabbed each other and I lifted my feet onto my chair. I saw a shadowy figure rocking back and forth up front, and a kind of ghost-like like. Then it was over.

I don’t recall us having any further opportunities to scream, though I may have forgotten them, too. I do know that my sister and I had many more adventures after that and, in a way, we still do. These days, though, the challenge is mostly in remembering that past. That alone is sometimes enough to make me scream.

• • • • •
*Crayfish were pretty common in fresh water in the Midwest, and I always hated them: I thought they were too menacing-looking or something. What New Zealanders call crayfish (or crays) are actually salt water spiny lobsters (which have no claws). The New Zealand freshwater relatives of what Americans call crayfish are usually called Koura.

Weekend Diversion: Tall Jan



This Australian TV commercial has been running here for the past year or so, and it’s still one of our favourites; even though I don’t eat the cereal, I like the commercial. This version is identical to what’s being played on New Zealand television, except the end frame of ours has a New Zealand announcer instead of an Australian one. There’s a slightly longer version (called a “Director’s Cut”—who’d have guessed a TV commercial could have one?), but I’ve never seen it played on NZ television. At any rate, this is just a non-malicious slice of life in this part of the world.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Moral Kombat


Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”, has long taken good-humoured, pointed jabs at the powerful. In this clip, he takes on President Obama for two areas where he is the weakest: Torture and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

I’ve said before that I think that Obama should prosecute the torturers. But I also think he’s being too timid on DADT. While it’s true that President Clinton got us into this disaster, it wasn't by moving too quickly to end the ban on gay servicemembers, but by moving incorrectly. In any case, that was a very different time. I believe that President Obama should issue an Executive Order ending all discharges under DADT while his “review” of the policy is underway. Congress will do nothing to stop him.

Stewart shows a slide containing a simple fact: That since 1993 over 12,000 gay and lesbian servicemembers have been discharged under DADT, among them 54 Arabic speakers (along with speakers of Farsi and Korean, among other language specialists). This has not only been a stupid waste of valuable human resources in a dangerous era, but also an very, very expensive waste, with some estimates putting the total costs of DADT in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is way past time to end DADT, and President Obama should move to do so.

Watching the sausage makers

“Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made.” – Otto von Bismarck

Over the past couple days we’ve spent a good deal of time watching ParliamentTV as the House met in committee stage to consider the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Bill under urgency. Yesterday I wrote about the stupid tactics of the New Zealand Labour Party. Today those tactics continued.

However, today the Opposition also promoted amendments raising substantive issues, with no more success than with their frivolous attempts. Labour admits they’re attempting to filibuster the legislation, but to what end? They acknowledge they can’t stop the bill.

Labour has focused on what they see as the lack of any opportunity for Aucklanders to have a say on this. The Green Party says they think that the real agenda is to strip the assets of the eight councils, either selling or privatising them. Both parties think the structure backed by the government will ensure that power is held by the business and wealthy elites who wouldn’t be able to win power without a system stacked in their favour.

As evidence, they point to the transition board, which will have absolute control over the eight councils until the new Auckland Council takes over in around 18 months. This board will be made up of well-connected business elites who will report only to the Local Government Minister, Rodney Hide, from the neoconservative ACT Party. His party believes government should own nothing and backs asset-stripping the local councils.

The National-led government tossed out the report of the Royal Commission, which was the result of 18 months of research, over 3500 submissions and discussions with international experts, and replaced it with their plan after only a few days’ work. The Government now claims that “everything is on the table”, except for the single unitary council. But, as Bismarck also said, “When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice.”

I think that both Labour and the Greens have raised valid concerns about the National-led Government’s plans and the likely structure that National and its rightwing allies will push through. Where I disagree with them—strongly—is on tactics. Let’s take National at their word—call their bluff, if you prefer—and demand in Select Committee the necessary changes to ensure democracy is retained in the new Auckland.

More than anything, though, we need to get this resolved so the people of Auckland and the more than 6,000 employees of the eight councils can get on with their lives. If democracy prevails, neither side will get everything it wants, but to quote Bismarck one more time, “Politics is the art of the possible.” Let’s see what’s possible.

Friday, May 15, 2009

NZ Labour Party is stupid

I’m a member of the New Zealand Labour Party. Beginning in 2002, the first NZ general election in which I could vote, I’ve always given two ticks to Labour. I mention all this first to put this in context: I’m angry with Labour and its stupid, pointless tactics in Parliament today.

As I write, the New Zealand Parliament is considering the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Bill under urgency. The National-led Government has the votes to pass the legislation and there’s nothing that Labour, as the Opposition, can do to stop it.

So Labour’s tactic is to muck up the process. Their caucus members proposed hundreds of mostly trivial amendments, including a series of identical nonsense, meaningless amendments calling for proposals like that this be known as the “Auckland supercity proposal” until a future date. Each amendment is soundly defeated, one after the other. On many votes, Labour—inexplicably and for the first time in my limited memory—has cast their votes in Maori. Last night this tactic managed to stop the process as Parliament had to bring in an official translator.

What on earth does Labour think they can win by doing this? They can’t stop this bill being passed, and these tactics make them look like childish brats who, knowing they can’t get their way, are throwing their toys all over the room. Do they think they’re being clever?

Labour and the Green Party object to what they see as the lack of opportunity for Aucklanders to have their say. The kicker is, I more or less agree with them on that. For reasons I’ve made clear in this blog, I don’t trust the National Party—and definitely not its allies. So what? This bill will pass.

It would’ve been better to propose a handful of substantive amendments—ones that could make a difference, amendments of principle—but Labour thought that game-playing was a better idea. They could’ve worked on organising opposition at the Select Committee where, if National listens to voters, there might be a chance to make meaningful changes. Or, Labour could've tapped into the concerns of ordinary Auckland voters and supported organised citizen protest. Instead, Labour has merely managed to steel the reserve of the Government to do as it pleases.

And what of the people of Auckland—one third of all New Zealand—who have to sit and wait to find out our fate while Labour’s games play out? How does Labour’s tactic help ordinary people? What of the some 6,000 employees of all the councils in the Auckland region? Their lives are on hold and the future of their jobs unknown until these games are over. How is that caring for the needs of workers?

So Labour, aided by the Greens, just looks negative and stupid, and like they don’t care about the people this affects. Continuing my membership in the New Zealand Labour Party isn’t looking like a very good idea at the moment because I’m not stupid.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

At the movies: ‘Angels & Demons’

Tonight Nigel and I went to see "Angels & Demons", which opened today. It was also the first time we’ve been to the Sky City Cinemas in Albany.

This movie has a kind of unique distinction for me: I read the book first. You have no idea how unusual that is for me. Actually, I read The DaVinci Code before seeing the movie, too. I enjoyed the Angels & Demons book much more than the The DaVinci Code book.

This movie, like its predecessor, stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, and I’m glad he was in both (I generally don’t like it when actors are changed in a film series—like Batman, for example). I have to admit that after reading both books, I didn’t picture Tom Hanks when I visualised Langdon. Even so, I think he did a great job.

This story is much simpler than The DaVinci Code, which means there can be more action and bit less explaining history, which will appeal to some people. But there’s also enough talk about history to satisfy those who like the “thinking parts” of the earlier story.

It was an entertaining movie, reasonably true to the book, and fun.

As a side note, I noticed that some Catholics were up in arms about the film, and I think I kind of know why: They don’t like the idea that leaders of the Catholic church could engage in conspiracies—they appear like all the rest of us, in other words. I thought that the church itself actually came across fine, and it’s the false-start critics who looked bad.

As I said, this was the first time we’d been to these cinemas, which are pretty new; It’s our new favourite. The seats are wide, reasonably comfortable, and have wide armrests with cupholders. It makes the $15.50 per person (US$9.15) seem like a reasonably good deal. It didn’t hurt that we saw a movie we liked.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We’re number eight!

Fresh on the heels of a survey in which Auckland was the fourth-equal best city in the world to live in, comes a study ranking the ten happiest countries on earth: New Zealand is listed at eight. Neither the US nor Australia made the list. New Zealand and Canada (at 6) were the only non-European countries on the list.

The report attempted to categorise subjective well-being—how satisfying people find their lives, whether their lives are dominated by positive things or negative things. The economies of the countries also played a role in people’s feelings of happiness, with other researchers finding that low unemployment and strong social and community ties were factors in people’s happiness.

It’s an interesting story but, like most New Zealanders, I take it all with a grain of salt and a shrug of the shoulders. New Zealanders like the world to notice and like them, but when recognition comes, it’s almost always pretty much ignored or even made fun of (as happened recently with the fourth-best ranking for Auckland).

All of which means that New Zealanders really are pretty happy—happy enough to enjoy having a laugh at themselves. That, and to have a laugh that Auckland did better than Sydney and New Zealand did better than Australia.

The happiest countries on earth:
1. Denmark
2. Finland
3. Netherlands
4. Sweden
5. Ireland
6. Canada
7. Switzerland
8. New Zealand
9. Norway
10. Belgium

Shut up?

Was ex-Vice President Dick Cheney born boring and tiresome, or does he just have a knack for it? In any case, what on earth makes him think he’s so wonderful, so brilliant, so uniquely intelligent that anyone but the roughly 28 percent of Americans who still claim to be Republicans would care in at all about what he says about, well, anything?

Traditionally, when a presidential administration leaves office, it refrains from criticising its successors (except around election time, of course). Bush has held to the tradition, but Cheney had pointedly refused to do so.

Naturally, America’s wingnut media hang on Cheney’s every syllable, but the mainstream news media has been eating it up, too (controversy makes money). But why, exactly, is he being so annoyingly vocal when we all thought we were finally rid of him on January 20? Why doesn’t he just shut up?

Some probably assume he’s trying to build up interest in his memoirs, hoping to boost sales, and that’s surely part of it. But I suspect his real motivation is to try and protect himself from prosecution. He must realise that he’s unlikely to face a trial in the US, unfortunately. He may be charged overseas, but he wouldn’t care about that (even if it could mean he’d never be able to leave the United States or risk arrest overseas). So Cheney’s trying to get in first—they say the best defence is a good offense and Cheney’s nothing if not offensive.

Another possibility is he can’t accept not calling the shots in government, and that his party was utterly defeated in the last elections: After eight years as de facto president, he thinks he should still be in control. There are mental health professionals who can help him with that.

I think it’s obvious that Cheney’s defence of the indefensible, his embrace of criminality and his determination to shred the US Constitution and change the presidency into a dictatorship make him not just an unindicted criminal, but also such a crackpot that no one should pay any attention to what he says.

On the other hand, every time Cheney or Republican Party Leader “Boss” Limbaugh open their mouths, the Democratic Party gets another convert, making the 2010 elections look better and better for the Democrats. So, while annoying, it’s not all bad!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Like father, like son

When I was a little boy, it was common for boys to pretend to be whatever their fathers were—fireman, businessperson, etc. In my case, of course, it was a bit stranger because it meant pretending to be a church minister.

I used the piano bench as an “altar”, and would put a bible on it along with a couple candlesticks. My “pulpit” was a wingchair that I’d swing around, standing against the back to “preach”. I was very young, and not yet entirely competent with English composition, so my “sermon” was a bit lacking. But its simplicity allowed me to remember it all these years:

“John F. Kennedy couldn’t be here, so I am. Jesus Christ couldn’t be here, so I am.”

Legend has it that my parents saw me do this and thought it was hilarious, so one day they had me deliver it at the house of the church organist. I did, and, the legend says, my father laughed so hard that he dropped his cigarette on the woman’s piano, burning one of the keys.

As I grew older, I became less interested in imitating my father, but I also became more involved in the church. That, too, ended when I grew older still, of course.

I have no idea whether little boys still pretend to do whatever their fathers (or mothers) do for a living. I also don’t know whether my father pretended to be what his father was (um, a minister…). But I do know this: My father never wanted to be a minister—he wanted to be a doctor.

In my father’s day, children were pressured to do what their parents wanted them to do, and my father was pressured to enter the “family business”. In the end, he was a good minister, and the best preacher I’ve ever heard. Still, I can’t help thinking that his life would have been happier if he’d followed his heart. My mother thought so, too, but said that he always claimed to be happy with his choice; I wonder about that.

I didn’t know any of that when I was a little boy, and probably wouldn’t have understood it, anyway. But maybe because of it my parents—and my father in particular—almost went out of their way to avoid pressuring me about career choice (even though a little more guidance might have been helpful, but that’s another story).

What I know for sure is that my father’s career choice made the very young me pretty unique among my friends, not that they knew or understood much about that. Ironically, at one point or another we all pretended to be doctors (in varying contexts), even though none of our fathers were physicians—though with a different twist of fate, mine might have been one.

In the end, my father’s gift was the freedom to make my own choices in life. I wish he’d had the same freedom, but I’m grateful for the legacy.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Clue? Your Party is waiting…

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the US Republican Party and the far right generally. Some of it has been pretty mocking because, let’s face it, they’ve been so hi-lar-i-ous lately. But now, they’ve outdone themselves, raising their comedic standard even higher.

After their fake grassroots protests, after tying to stick every label they can think of on President Obama (and even trying to re-name the Democratic Party), after piling all of that on top of their normal distortion and disinformation, now they’ve found another way to attack President Obama: Mustard.

In what has to be the looniest attempt at an attack I’ve ever seen, the far right has been trying to discredit the president because he asked for mustard on a hamburger. No, I’m not making this up—who could? Planet Wingnut is beside itself over condiments!

When the president visited that hamburger place and ordered a cheeseburger, he said he wanted mustard on his burger, specifically, “if you’ve got a spicy mustard, like a Dijon mustard or something like that”. Apparently, choosing that is enumerated as treason on Planet Wingnut.

Ordering a burger is what ordinary people do, and this is the heart of the wingnut attacks: They cannot allow the president to be seen as an ordinary person because that would undo all their efforts to frame the president as an elitist, unlike the real ordinary people, the multi-millionaire blowhards in the wingnut media. So, they focus on his choice of condiments to “prove” they’re right. One wingnut went even farther, “What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup, but Dijon mustard?"

What all of this shows, yet again, is how utterly out of ideas the far right now is. They have nothing to offer America but opposition to everything and attacks over stupid things, like choice of condiments.

All of which suggests a commercial: One limousine is stopped, wingnut millionaire commentator in the back. Another limousine pulls up, the Republican leader leans out and says, “Pardon me, would you happen to have a clue?” The wingnut, of course, doesn’t, and they both drive off, utterly clueless, but with plenty of condiments.

Tip o' the hat to Mark from Slap Upside the Head who pointed me to the story.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My sentiments exactly



This video, “The Big Fat Gay Collab!” (language NSFW), is the latest “viral video”, and my current favourite. When I first saw it this morning, it had a few hundred views. When I checked a couple minutes ago, it was around fifty times that many.

The song has a history of its own, but the video is a collaboration of some 20 YouTubers led by steviebeebishop who said of the project:

“There’s a disgusting amount of hate on the internet (especially on YouTube!) directed at minority groups (especially the LGBT community) so I was inspired to organize this collab video. I never set out to "change the world" I simply wanted to make something light hearted to put a smile on the face of any hate-victim watching. You're not alone! Stevie loves you :)”

I think he and the others succeeded. The sentiment in the song is one I’ve been feeling a lot lately, as readers of this blog already know. I think that the catchy, almost bubblegum pop sound of the song softens its lyrics and combined with the fun video, this succeeds where ordinary polemics—or blog posts—cannot.

Well done, steviebeebishop and everyone else.


Update 07/05/09: I corrected my numbers above, and I can now report that the video has been viewed over 50,000 times—more than 100 times the number when I first watched it. Today I listened to the song on my iPod while I was riding on the bus, and it seemed so subversive. Maybe that's why it wasn't my generation that came up with this video.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Like a whole other country

It’s often difficult for Americans to accept that some things are, in fact, a whole lot better in other countries. For example, while America continues to battle over whether states can offer any kind of official recognition to same-sex couples, other countries just get on with it. Some, like Canada, enact marriage equality, while others, like New Zealand, enact Civil Unions with the rights and privileges of marriage.

But would any American journalist ever ask President Obama who he’d “turn gay” for? Would they ask, well, whoever the real head of the Republicans is? Australian TV and radio host Rove McManus has made asking that question of celebrities and politicians a common bit on his TV chat show. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has ducked the question—twice. Not New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Asked by NZ gay publication express, Key said he’d “turn gay” for Brad Pitt. Said the Prime Minister, "Now he's a bit older, [Brad’s] a bit of a looker. I was going to say Tom Cruise, but someone of his age shouldn't look that young." Okay, both Pitt and Cruise may be obvious choices for a straight man to mention, but full props for playing along with the question. Kevin Rudd could learn a thing or two from John Key on this.

Key was asked about gay marriage in New Zealand, but he said he felt there was no need to go beyond the existing civil unions law. However, he does not oppose gay couples adopting children—something that’s currently not legal (a single gay person can adopt, but a same-sex couple cannot).

As it happens, new statistics on marriage in New Zealand reveal that a third of all NZ marriages end in divorce. Even so, marriages overall were up slightly, though still only a third of their peak in 1971.

There were 327 civil unions among New Zealand residents last year, of whom 256—roughly 78 percent—were same sex: 111 male, 145 female. 71 were opposite-sex civil unions. Adding the 78 civil unions registered to overseas residents, the total number of civil unions last year was 405. Up to the end of last year, only 8 civil unions were dissolved.

In New Zealand, civil unions are the legal equivalent of marriage, but I’m convinced that sooner rather than later New Zealand will have marriage equality for people who want marriage. Because of the legal equality of NZ civil unions, I’m not all that concerned that the prime minister doesn’t want to enact marriage equality by name. Actually, I’m encouraged that he supports equality in adoption law.

I’m not a big fan of the National Party’s caucus in Parliament. There are, in fact, a lot of them I can’t stand. And yet, I kinda like their leader, John Key. This shows part of the reason why that is—and another reason why New Zealand is very, very different from America.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sky Television a media pirate?

This month’s email newsletter from Sky Television featured an interesting “This Month’s Top Tip” at the bottom: “We are always getting queries on how to open up the back of your remote to change the batteries”. Really? That must mean there’s a design problem with the remotes.

Sky’s solution: “To make this process easier for you, our customer services team have put together this video showing you exactly how to do it.” Sky should get credit for offering an easy way for Internet-using customers to see how to change the batteries—seriously, it’s not easy or obvious how to get the thing open.

However, their “new media” video on the battery-changing technique is incredibly ironic: The background music is copyrighted. Sky Television was one of the backers of the now defunct Section 92A of the Copyright Act. Sky supported the measure because, like record companies and Hollywood movie studios, they’re convinced that they’re losing revenue to “piracy”.

As the debate raged, particularly over how fast and under what circumstances alleged pirates would lose their Internet connections, and even as Internet giant Google announced its opposition, “Sky Television said that ISPs should cut off copyright infringers sooner than… proposed.” (full quote at the bottom of the linked story)

There’s no way the music in the video is “fair use”, a defence that doesn’t actually exist under New Zealand copyright law, anyway. Sky will have a license for music they broadcast, but New Zealand doesn’t offer a license for Internet use of copyrighted music. So, in essence, Sky became a “media pirate” when they used copyrighted music for an Internet video.

Ah, sweet irony…

Haters caught out



In the video above, MSNBC’s David Shuster interviews Brian Brown, the executive director of the hate group National Organization for (man-lady) Marriage. In the interview, Brown makes outright lies and distortions.

Brown mentioned catholic adoptions in Massachusetts and a New Jersey methodist group’s tax troubles, even though both cases have absolutely nothing to do with same sex marriage—the cases involved ordinary anti-discrimination laws. And his facts were wrong, too, as has already been explained.

The main reason for the interview, though, was that NOM was caught out making a deliberate distortion: In their latest ad, they invite people to go to their website “to read about the legal conflicts that scholars say gay marriage creates”. One small problem: As David Shuster pointed out, those scholars didn’t actually say that. Instead, they really said there might be problems without exemptions for religions. This was a deliberate distortion.

Brown also makes the absurd claim that Americans “overwhelmingly oppose” same sex marriage. That’s a lie. CBS News poll, April 27, 2009: 42% say same-sex couples SHOULD be allowed to marry, 25% support Civil Unions, and a mere 28% say there should be no legal recognition. Technically, you could say a bare majority—53%—don’t support marriage equality, but you could equally say that Americans overwhelmingly—67%—support some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll (April 30, 2009) found that 49% of Americans support marriage equality and only 46% oppose it—the first time they’ve found supporters outnumbering opponents. The new poll found that a majority—53%—believe that same sex marriages performed in one state should be recognised in their own state (as the US Constitution actually requires).

So, when NOM and other rightwing christianists claim that Americans “overwhelmingly oppose” marriage equality, they’re completely wrong. I have no doubt that they’re aware of that fact, but they deliberately ignore the truth because the truth is that they’re losing. This means that they’re lying.

Shuster manages to get Brown to admit the real purpose of NOM. While Brown admitted that two men or two women in a relationship don’t affect any heterosexual’s marriage, he argued that if same-sex couples are allowed to marry, it will mean that their relationships will be as legitimate as heterosexuals’. That would mean that gay and lesbian people will have to be treated as equal citizens. NOM’s real agenda, then, has very little to do with opposing marriage equality: Their real goal is to keep gay and lesbian people second-class citizens and the victims of religious bigotry and oppression.

This is why NOM is a hate group. Their board is loaded with right wing religionists—one of whom is an extremist among extremists, calling for criminalisation of homosexuality and overthrowing the government if same-sex marriage is legalised (by the way, the technical term for that is “treason”). This is why so many normal people refer to the people of NOM as “NOMnuts”.

There’s no doubt that the incompetent and delusional NOM has provided hours of entertainment to normal people, and their first ad quickly became one of the most parodied videos on YouTube. But these people are not a joke—they’re a dangerous hate group, using the language of the left to try to portray themselves as “victims” when they are, in reality, oppressors and religious bigots.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who will no longer let hate groups like NOM get away with lying and spreading religious bigotry. That’s a great development—for all sane and rational people in America.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Onward Christian torturers?

A new survey from Pew Research Center found white evangelical Protestants strongly support torture, while mainstream Protestants were less likely to back torture than Americans generally. Similarly, strongest support for torture comes from those who attend religious services at least weekly.

Those unaffiliated with a religion and those who seldom or never attend religious services were the least likely to support torture.

A shocking 62% of white evangelical Protestants said that torture can often or sometimes be justified. Only 33% of them felt that torture can rarely or never be justified. Mainstream Protestants were less likely to back torture: 46% said it was often or sometimes justified, while a majority—53%—said it wasn’t.

The reality is that there’s not much difference between mainstream Protestants and the non-religious (40% support, 55% oppose torture), and both of them were slightly less likely to support torture than Americans generally, who are split on the issue: 49% supported, 47% opposed.

White evangelical Protestants provided the strongest support for the Bush/Cheney regime, and are still the mainstream of the Republican Party. This may explain why members of the former regime and the Republican Party continue to back torture. And, it shows yet another inconsistency between their religious views and their political positions.

We have a long way to go to remove the stain of torture from America’s honour. But this survey suggests that there may be deeper obstacles than many of us realised.

Related story on CNN.com (originally found via Joe.My.God).

Friday, May 01, 2009

The other dimension’s newspaper

I’m not a fan of the New Zealand Herald. The archives of this blog have plenty of posts where I’ve criticised the Herald for a stupid article, bad journalism or just its rightwing, pro-National Party bias.

Today the Herald published an editorial that was so astonishingly stupid, so breathtakingly boneheaded that I almost thought it came from an alternate dimension. Sadly, it doesn’t.

Their editorial was intended to talk about how the National-led Government could get out of the financial problems caused by the global recession. They suggested the government could delay the next round of personal tax cuts, for example.

I knew that they were heading into rightwing territory when they criticised “the over-reliance of the tax system on company profits and personal income, particularly of the richest 10 per cent.” So what’s the Herald’s solution? Why, raise GST, of course!

“Raising it from the present 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent would bring it into line with Britain's consumption tax.” And why is that a good thing? They don’t say—if the Brits do it, is it automatically good?

They admit, “Inevitably, since sales taxes are paid by everyone, the Government would be accused of taking from the poor to finance income tax cuts for the rich.” That would be because it would be! They also admit, “an added tax on spending might be seen as a drag on any recovery from the recession.” Bingo!

The Herald knows best: “Its impact on prices would be no worse than the public routinely absorbs from the likes of oil price movements.” I’ll freely admit that when I read that line the first thing that popped into my head was “Are they fuckin’ serious?!!

The Herald may not be able to understand how normal people live, but GST is the most regressive form of tax there is, hurting poor and working people far more than the rich. If GST is raised, ordinary people will cut back on spending, making the recession last longer. They’ll cut back on essentials like food, dropping fresh fruit and vegetables grown in New Zealand for cheaper imported things—that’s when they’re not dropping real food altogether in favour of cheaper, filling junk food.

In this recession, people are hurting badly, and the Herald’s solution is to make ordinary people hurt even more. Un-be-lieve-able! Tax the poor more so the rich can live better—yeah, great idea. Fortunately, the National Party isn’t stupid enough to do as the Herald wants and raise GST—it would be the quickest and surest way to lose the next election.

Newspapers all over the world are failing. Can I nominate the New Zealand Herald to be next? Either that, or maybe it can be sold to New Zealanders. Having a major New Zealand paper actually owned by New Zealanders would be refreshing—and maybe they wouldn’t say something so stupid.