}

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weekend Diversion: How to report the news



I saw this over at Joe.My.God. and thought it was hilarious—because it’s so true. The clichéd boilerplate techniques Charlie Brooker parodies are used in TV news from around the world, but this really points out how silly and empty many of them are. Keep this video in mind the next time you watch TV news.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunset on the Plains

I snapped these two photos tonight when we stopped on the road back home after a family gathering in Thames. They were taken at two different farms on the Hauraki Plains side of the Kopu Bridge, a way past the Turua turn-off. They don’t really do justice to the vividness of the colours and, being on the Plains, it was difficult to get a good vantage point. Still, the sunsets in this area can be absolutely stunning, and these photos provide a hint of that.

It’s a start



In this long video (over an hour), President Obama takes questions from members of the Republican caucus in the US Congress. The US newsmedia is saying that the exchange was “remarkably sharp,” even comparing it to “the British custom where a prime minister responds to questions in Parliament,” (an absurd comparison, as anyone who watches Westminster-style parliaments in action can attest). I’d say that it was unusually frank for US politicians, and it could be the first baby, teeny-tiny steps toward breaking the partisan impasse in Congress. For that to happen, both sides will need to stop shouting over each other and actually talk to each other. But it’ll also mean that Republicans will have to stop saying really stupid, absurd things about the president (“Socialist!” “Communist!” “Fascist!”). Can they? I’m not sure they can. Democrats have shown remarkable restraint in attacking the Republicans (mostly because they’ve been constantly trying to woo Republicans is a futile bid to get some of them to support healthcare reform), but if the Republicans meet them part-way, they’ll have to reciprocate.

At any rate, I hope this session indicates a new direction.

Found via Joe.My.God.

Friday, January 29, 2010

iWant

I avoided saying anything about the new Apple iPad yesterday because I didn’t want to be part of the horde—or is that herd? Anyway, I want one.

Some people sniffed because it doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, doesn’t make the morning coffee or turn down the bed at night. It’s designed to sit between smart phones and laptops, but not to replace either. Shortcomings? Wait for the inevitable ad-ons and third-party enhancements.

Some complained that it’s basically a big iPod Touch—I certainly hope so. I love my iPod Touch—far more than I probably should—because it’s the single most useful bit of new (to me) technology I’ve ever had. The only trouble is that the small screen is hard for my aging eyes to see. Add a bunch of new functions and you’ve got my dream device. I don’t need a powerful computer (got my iMac already), don’t need a laptop (got a Macbook) and I don’t need a phone (I have a non-Apple phone—ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming!)

The thing is, I think the iPad is IT, the device that may finally make e-publications a reality. Actually, it’s not the device as much as the commercial model behind it.

When iTunes Store launched, people who were downloading music were doing so illegally. The iTunes Store revolutionised the sales of music. It also made it possible for small indie artists to sell their music in a way that was impossible before. It also introduced the world of podcasts, allowing anyone with the right equipment and a little know-how to offer their ideas to the entire world.

The new iBook structure has the potential to do the same thing for publishing. The first beneficiaries will be traditional newspaper/magazine publishers who’ll be able to take advantage of the iPad’s features to make a premium product worth subscribing to, in a way those publishers’ websites are not and can never be. Book publishing companies will also benefit.

But if—IF—Apple builds in access for solo and independent publishers, similar to the way anyone can podcast, then it may turn out to be the greatest democratisation of the written word since Guttenberg first inked up his newfangled printing press.

At the moment, book publishing is controlled by companies whose decisions are motivated by their potential profit. Vanity publishers and self-publishing are an option for the majority of writers who will never be published by a book publisher, but reaching a mass market remains elusive.

If Apple includes small and solo book publishers—and, unlike podcasts, makes it possible for them to sell their works—it’ll be a game changer. I’m sure plenty of people would be happy to offer their work—books or periodicals—for free, but the ability to sell one’s written work is, I think, more important than with podcasts (and I say that as a podcaster who’s produced more than 200 free podcast episodes over two different podcasts).

Future devices will be better, faster, cheaper, of course, and the development of such devices will be driven, in part, by the content available. If e-publishing ever becomes a reality, it’ll take something like iBook to get it going. Just as the first iPods were clunky and limited and improved over time, so, too, the iPad’s successors will push the whole paradigm farther.

In the meantime, I want an iPad. I also want to be right about all this.

Randomness

I often have some random thoughts that are too short for blog posts, and too long for Twitter. Here are a few:

Gout: Vegans’ Revenge

The greatest irony about gout is that while the affliction is virtually unknown among vegetarians, once it develops, the staples of a vegan diet can cause attacks: Beans and pulses (including soy products, like tofu), mushrooms and even asparagus. Mind you, other completely non-vegan foods are bad, too, like red meat, shellfish, offal (mammal guts—sorry, but that’s what it is; as I often say, “it’s not called awful for nothing”). The specific “trigger foods” vary from person to person, but for me, beans, pulses and mushrooms are the worst.

I Didn’t Believe Them

Yesterday morning, I heard the weather report on the radio. I ignored it. It wasn’t just that weather reports are almost always wrong, but that they predicted thunderstorms—we almost never have thunderstorms in Auckland. I was wrong, they were right—complete with surface flooding. But I’m sure I'll still basically ignore weather reports.

We’re Leaving Hell

No, it’s not some sort of religious conversion, but an abandonment of a New Zealand pizza chain. We always chose them, even though they’re expensive, partly because, unlike the American brands sold in New Zealand, they offered gluten-free bases, important for one of our family members. But when the recession kicked in, they started re-jigging their menu and skimping on the ingredients. We could deal with that, but all the past few orders have been screwed up in some way. You know how they say a happy customer may not tell anyone, but a dissatisfied customer will tell twenty people? Well, I’ve just told millions (joking). We’ll point out to them the error of their ways, but we’re not expecting much.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Protect the Children (and mean it)



The latest video from Rob Tisinai demolishes the rightwing’s favourite smear, that all gay men are child molesters. This is great, but really, why should it be our side that always has to do this? What’s wrong with the mainstream media that they can’t even call the bigots on the most obvious of lies? At least we have Rob.

Check out Rob’s YouTube Channel and his blog.

Strange words

From time to time I’ve talked about language usage in New Zealand, often when I’m talking about something else. After more than 14 years, I’ve pretty much become used to Kiwi English—though sometimes they surprise me with some slang.

Over the years, I’ve adjusted to people saying “in hospital” rather than the American “in THE hospital”. But one related thing that continues to grate is when the media talks about someone being “seriously ill in hospital” to describe someone who’s been injured or been in an accident.

I’m pretty sure that this usage of “illness” is of British origin, and it may be a media thing, even a holdover from when New Zealanders on radio and TV were forced to ape British elocution. I’ve never heard an ordinary person in New Zealand use that phrase except to describe someone who’s sick, not injured (if then).

I suppose after all these years, it’s kind of refreshing, and maybe a little reassuring, that I still find some things about the language here to be odd. This time, at least, it’s not just me who’s odd.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A blogging question

I was looking at an old post today (it was from nearly three years ago), and the link in it was dead (it was to a news story since taken down). Normally I just ignore those, but I know that it annoys me when I go to a site and click on a dead link.

So, a question: When I run across dead links on my blog, should I remove them? I mean, if it doesn’t go anywhere, what’s the point? Clearly this isn’t something I’d set about doing as a project, but I do come across them from time to time. Is their some sort of etiquette for this?

I’d be curious to hear what other bloggers do and what readers would like to see.

NZ gym chains says ‘soya’

A New Zealand gym chain, Club Physical, has apologised for their latest newsletter. It included an item in its “Yogurt Guy” section about soy milk “turning” boys gay and a link to the biggest, wingnuttiest wingnut site in America. The newsletter said:

“Soy is making kids ‘gay’”

“Personally, I enjoy any food that is supposed to build health and soy is one of them. Thanks to my wife there are usually a couple of cartons of soy milk in the fridge. So I was intrigued by this article by Jim Rutz and would be interested in your thoughts.”

The “article” is pseudoscience nonsense spread by a far-right christianist as part of an anti-gay agenda. Paul Richards, who owns the chain with his wife Tina, wrote the mention in the newsletter. In his defence, he told GayNZ.com:

"I have written this newsletter every week for over five years and there is hardly ever any feedback. I was on a tight deadline and in the back of my mind I realised it might provoke comment. I'm afraid I didn't put enough thought into it."

So, is that the case? Or is he trying to cover his corporate arse? Twitter can help us work it out.

On January 19th at 4:13pm, they posted on Twitter “A feature of the PHYSICAL e-newsletter today: Soy is making kids 'gay' http://bit.ly/z9DxA - Any opinions and comments?” They got some. About 15 minutes later, a reply: “(it was posted 2006) No references to support his claims?!?! Research in 2000??? What research? Provide sources.. #fail” At this point, Richards noticed the problem: “I agree, very dated research and article by an unqualified writer.”

Early the following morning, another response: “what a homophobic crazyass. Personally I don't recommend soy but that guy is using it to spread fear and narrowmindedness!” at around midday, another: “@clubphysical publish link to discredited article claiming "soy makes boys gay". Terrible business decision guys. Who's brilliant idea?”

A couple hours later, Richards responds: “We thought it would be a challenging & intriguing subject/article to ask for opinions on. So we asked for feedback. That’s all.” This is after acknowledging the information was “very dated research and article by an unqualified writer”.

At 4:20PM on January 24, Richards repeats the request for comments, saying the newsletter “has caused a bit of a media scrum here this morning”. At 5:35PM, a reply: “Refuted pseudoscience. Expected better. This will confuse readers as to your reliability as a health information source.” Clearly shifting gears, Richards responds at 6:22PM: “What [e-newsletter] readers can expect to be supplied with is the present diverse variety of health research and sources available.” Including “very dated research and article by an unqualified writer”? Four minutes later, Richards adds: “Anything less would be biased. The aim; encouraging readers to create their individual health consciousness and lifestyle.” Biased? Because linking to a quack article from an anti-gay christianist on the leading wingnut site wouldn’t be considered “biased”, would it?

Richards spoke with GayNZ.com on January 25, saying "In hindsight I wouldn't do that again." He also claimed not to know who the author was and didn’t check him out or the site. This last claim is clearly dubious: That site is filled with screaming far-right ads and provocative extremist story titles.

About an hour before he spoke with GayNZ.com, he spoke with RadioNZ. Said GayNZ: “Radio New Zealand yesterday reported Paul Richards saying that those who are offended by the linked article's content need to get over it and that anyone who cancels their membership because of it is small-minded.”

It looks like Richards was exercising damage-control to GayNZ.com, while his true feelings we showing in his defensive Tweets and in the belligerent tone he took on the radio (an attitude that would’ve played well with the usual talkback radio audience).

So, is Paul Richards evil or just stupid? I suspect that he may simply have not seen that that the article was nonsense because it fit in with his worldview (the Richards are members of the fundamentalist Life Church, though Paul claims that has no bearing). He was smart enough to realise that he’d angered a significant portion of his customers by promoting homophobic nonsense, but still felt compelled to defend his actions and the article, especially because the folks who were offended were unlikely to see his defence.

Paul Richards has every right to his religious views. He even has the right to promote those views, no matter how outrageous and stupid they are, in his company newsletter. But he has no right to expect fair-minded people to support him in those endeavours.

Bottom line: If I was looking for a gym to join, it absolutely would not be Club Physical. I just wouldn’t want to take the chance that my money would go to support those who would work against me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

NZ radio host comes out on air



Mike Puru, a radio host and former children’s TV presenter, told the nationwide audience of The Edge FM’s “Morning Madhouse” that he’s gay. Quite literally, that’s not something you hear every day.

I’m not all that familiar with Mike’s work, though I’m sure that I’ve seen him on TV (and I think he was the emcee at the NZ Premier of "Star Trek", though I don’t remember for sure). Come to think of it, maybe I should’ve had an inkling when he was in the NZ version of the Lily Allen “Fuck You” video collaboration…

Seriously, congratulations and, now that you’re officially out, welcome to the family!

Update: GayNZ.com published an interview with Mike in which he says the feedback’s “been 99.99% positive”. They had one religious nut say they wouldn’t listen any more, but, according to Mike, “my boss said we don’t need those people listening anyway.”

One and fifteen

Yesterday was our first wedding anniversary. This year is also the fifteenth year we’ve been together. So yesterday we talked a little about which anniversary we should observe. We didn’t choose between them.

Up until 2005, there was no way for same-sex couples to have their relationships recognised under law. When the Civil Unions Act came into force, it became possible for same-sex couples to have a wedding—and so, a wedding anniversary—just like opposite-sex couples among their friends and families. Before that law, same-sex couples would do what they’d done for generations: Pick as an anniversary a date that had special meaning for them. We picked the date I arrived in New Zealand, since that’s when our life together began.

We’d already been together nearly ten years when the Civil Unions Act came into force. It took us a few more years to get around to getting the Civil Union. So now we find ourselves in the unusual position of having our first anniversary in the same year we have our fifteenth. Some day we may settle on one or the other, but not yet.

I admit, it kind of annoys me that, actuarially speaking, we’re unlikely to make it to our 50th wedding anniversary—even though we could very well be together for 50 years. But I’m ecstatic that we’re likely to be the last generation to face that: Couples now will probably end up designating their civil union date, their wedding anniversary, as the date they and their friends and families celebrate.

To be treated the same as our heterosexual brothers and sisters has been the point of this struggle all along. In this one area, in too few places, we’re achieving that. There’s so much work left to be done, but let’s celebrate the small things that mark our passage to equality. To me, a wedding anniversary—something I never expected to have—is a good place to start.

But you know what? None of that political stuff would matter at all to me if I didn't have someone wonderful to share it with. A year ago I gained more than a series of wedding anniversaries: I got to declare to the whole world that, under law, I was with the person who was, to me, the most important person in the world. To me, that's even more important.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Taxing work

For the second time in as many months, hard-right economic conservatives proposed radical changes for New Zealand. For the second time, Finance Minister Bill English initially expressed a willingness to adopt at least part of a radical plan, only to turn around within a couple days and again say, in effect, that the radicals had gone too far.

The common element is Prime Minister John Key. Like his Labour Party predecessor, Helen Clark, Key is a pragmatic leader more than a partisan one and, in any case, his political leanings are centrist, not rightwing. The radicals’ proposals never had any chance of being adopted in their entirety.

That may have been the plan all along: The reports of the two “working groups” could’ve been trial balloons to see how far the New Zealand public was willing to go. A poll claimed Kiwis would accept raising GST from its current 12.5% to 15%, and that would seem to suggest that the first trial balloon worked to soften up the general public. I’m sceptical.

However, the New Zealand tax system absolutely needs reform: It rewards passive investment in residential rental property or empty land and discourages “active” investments (which includes shares and company bonds, among other things). With no capital gains tax, for example, an investor who sells an investment house at a huge profit pays no tax on the profit, but a businesses owner making a similar amount in profit will pay a third in tax. That makes no sense.

The conservatives generally tell us that raising GST is the best answer, but it’s a terrible idea. A flat tax, GST is regressive and hits poor and working people far harder. Better-off people can cut back on consumption to avoid paying more in GST tax, but there are currently virtually no exemptions from GST, so the prices of food, clothing, electricity, water—all the minimum, basic requirements for life—go up.

GST also places all the costs of collection onto businesses—large and small—rather than on government, as with normal taxes. This creates enormous burdens on businesses, especially small businesses—the engine of most Western economies.

Some have proposed financial transaction taxes as a better alternative to GST. Others have said a land tax would discourage people “land-banking” empty land, and a capital gains tax on investment property would encourage investors to put their money into more productive uses. There are, in other words, many alternative proposals that don’t require raising the taxes on the poor to give the better-off and rich tax cuts.

The rightwing claim that the only way to preserve our current services in health, education, etc., will be to increase GST and cut the taxes of the better-off. All New Zealanders deserve to be treated fairly by the tax system—including those at the bottom. The better-off and investors shouldn’t be able to take advantage of everyone else. Fairness is what New Zealand is all about—and ought to be.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rainy days

It's been raining a bit in Auckland the past couple days. I took this photo outside our house yesterday to show some of the results.

The end of American democracy?

In the most stunningly wrong ruling since the Dred Scott Decision 153 years ago, the conservative activist judges on the US Supreme Court have transferred the power to elect governments in the US—from the local level right up to the President—to big corporations.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court removed all limits on how much money corporations can spend for or against political candidates. Some have said that, in effect, the activist judges have legalised bribery, and it’s hard to argue against that.

The court made two major errors: First, they continued the legal fiction that a corporation is “a person” in every respect and that then led them to their second error, that these non-existent persons have the same rights to “free speech” as real people.

Corporations are not people: They cannot vote and they cannot run for public office. Their managers and their owners (shareholders) are not necessarily even US Citizens or resident in the country, which means that foreigners are now free to buy American politicians by spending money for them or against their opponent. What politician, aided by such largesse, would oppose the wishes of their benefactor?

The rightwing, especially the Republican Leadership in Congress, has declared it a “victory” for the First Amendment. What they meant was a victory for their campaign finances, more likely, because there’s no way that stacking the deck so dramatically against ordinary citizens and their interests is victory for anything apart from the interests of the corporate elites.

Of course, there’s already the stench of special interest money in US politics, but this ruling will allow corporations to throw their money around openly. Unions will be free to spend money, too, but after decades of union-busting efforts by government and the corporate elites, unions collectively have less money available to them many large corporations.

The Framers of the Constitution could never have imagined today’s trans-national corporations. Had they done so, they would’ve forbidden corporate interference in elections. Any claim to the contrary betrays a fundamental misunderstanding or ignorance of the Founders’ suspicion of power being concentrated in too few hands.

There are some ways this damage could be undone, short of removing the rightwing justices and replacing them with sensible moderates. First, the Electoral College could be abolished, making individual states less important and making targeted spending by the corporate elites less effective. Failing that, Electoral Votes should be allocated by Congressional District, and not “winner takes all”.

Second, all elections should be Instant Run-off Voting. This would break the monopoly of the two parties as well as make it harder for corporate elites to target races because the result is less predictable.

But to be truly safe from the corporate elites, a future saner court will have to reverse this decision.

Update 23 January
– Roger Green has posted an interesting look at part of this: "Earl Warren Would Have Hated the Citizens United Ruling".

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Get a grip

The moronic statements from the left and the right over the Republican winning the special election in Massachusetts to take the seat held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy is already becoming too much to take. People on both sides really need to get a grip.

Only about 40% of Massachusetts voters could even be bothered to vote. That means that a majority of a minority of voters actually supported the Republican. When the final figures are in, maybe 20 – 25% of Massachusetts voters will turn out to have voted for the Republican. That’s not much of a victory.

So, Republicans: Yeah, you won—this time. Don’t take that as any kind of omen and don’t assume you’ll hold the seat in the election in only two years because your percentage of the electorate is way too small for that. Massachusetts hasn’t suddenly gone red; instead, for many stupid reasons, Democrats couldn’t be bothered to vote. Your side won an election that was always yours to lose. Enjoy your brief success, because it means nothing.

Democrats: Stop making the loss more than it is. You had a 60-seat majority in the US Senate and you still couldn’t pass a progressive healthcare bill. What good is a super-majority if you won’t/can’t use it? So a very conservative Republican, the darling of the teabaggers, has been elected to a two-year term—so what? The right wing had a majority in the US Senate before today and it still will after this temporary Senator is sworn in.

And to Blue Dog/Conservadems: Don’t dare try to spin this election as an indication that there should more Dems like you. The Massachusetts results are far too low to draw that conclusion. Personally, I think that if we had more liberal Dems—what I’d call real Democrats—we wouldn’t be in this situation.

The media will play this in the Republicans’ favour and won’t get any of the factors that make this disappointing, but not a disaster. The 2010 elections are still more than ten months away and this particular result isn’t an indicator of what will or won’t happen then. Journalists should do their jobs and stop repeating Republican spin as if it’s fact.

And on the subject of spin, the teabaggers have had a collective orgasm, but they’re deluded if they think it has any relevance to the re-election chances of Senator John Kerry in four years; their boy has to win re-election in the 2012 elections first, and that’s a very tall order. They also can’t assume that the behaviour of a tiny percentage of Massachusetts voters tells us anything about national trends.

So, while the results in Massachusetts are disappointing, and it’s sad that a tool of corporate America will sully the seat long held by Ted Kennedy, it’s far from the end of the world. That’s what the Republicans and teabaggers want you to think, but it doesn’t make it true.

Life interferes

I’ve had a pretty productive month blogging, but sometimes life interferes with plans. I don’t mind so much when it’s because I’m busy, regardless of whether it’s with work or play, but I’m not too thrilled when it’s health-related.

This week I’ve been fighting a gout attack, something that’s been pretty common for me over the past few months. It’s getting better now, though, so I’m starting to feel more like connecting with the world—lucky world, eh?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Weekend Diversion: Me me meme

As long-time readers know, I don’t do memes. To be honest, I thought they were kind of passé by now, anyway. But when an e-friend tags me, well, I have to at least think about it.

Roger Green tagged me in a “Kreative Blogger Award” meme, and it would just be rude not to comply. Besides, like Roger said in his post, memes like this “made the blogisphere - dare I say it? - FUN. Blogging should be fun, even if one's venting one's spleen to do so.”

So, in that spirit of fun, I’ll take up this challenge in which I’m supposed to reveal seven things about myself:

1. I once saw a ghost. In the mid 1960s, I saw a man walk across our dining room, look at me, put his hat on and disappear through another door. I never saw him again.

2. At around 20, I heckled a frothing fundie street preacher (quoting the bible back to him). His nonsense response taught me to never bother doing that again.

3. I made significant starts at writing two novels and maybe four non-fiction books. None ever made it to 100 pages.

4. Until my last year at university, I fully intended to run for the Illinois General Assembly and then for the US Congress—as a Republican. I abandoned the idea after I came out, but had no back-up plan.

5. The last time I was in a church for anything other than a wedding, funeral, voting or tourism would’ve been about 1991. I don’t see that changing.

6. Every time I’ve wanted to learn a skill in graphic arts or publishing, I’ve had an opportunity to learn on-the-job present itself to me—I’ve never had to seek out those opportunities or pay for training.

7. I adore bookstores and office supply stores. I can spend hours in the first and explore nearly every aisle of the second.

The next step is to pass the “award” on to other bloggers, but that’s one thing I don’t do—tag others for a meme. But I do encourage others to do the same thing and let me know in the comments that they have.

Now aren’t you glad I don’t do “ask me anything” posts like Roger does?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Truth is the real victim

Of all the lies told by the christianist right in America, the claim that they’re “victims” is one that ought to go nowhere. It’s so demonstrably false, so obviously a propaganda ploy, that it should be a no-brainer for the mainstream media to call them out on it. That never—ever—happens.

The lie, in a nutshell, is a claim “Christians” (by which they mean exclusively far right fundamentalists like themselves) are “victims” because of their beliefs. Who’s behind this “victimisation”? Why, the dirty homos of course!

As the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case to overturn California’s Prop 8 was about to get underway, the anti-gay bigots went to court to block TV cameras because, they said, their supporters would be “victimised” by the homos. They went to the US Supreme Court carrying that absurd claim and won a stay. Then the conservative majority on the court blocked cameras indefinitely.

Since then, plans to post clips of the trial to YouTube have been dropped, and the bigots want all video of the trial destroyed. The logical question is, what are they trying to hide?

These far right religious extremists are waging two wars: First, to block the civil and human rights of GLBT people (and, ultimately, to repeal what already exists). Second, they want to hide all the interconnections between and among them. This latter goal can be seen in their constant attempts to keep the donors to their political campaigns secret, in violation of campaign finance disclosure laws, and even to keep the signatures on anti-gay ballot measures secret.

They know that their violation of law and extreme secrecy looks bad—and would rightly be viewed as anti-democratic—so they need a scapegoat to blame for their secrecy. Who better than the people they hate the most—homos?!

Typical of far right christianist hategroups is the “Family” Research Council. In customary overheated, bombastic style, head bigot Tony Perkins wrote recently about banning cameras in the Prop 8 trial and pompously declared:
“This isn't a question of whether conservatives will face harassment but how much. After all, this is a state where militant homosexuals have a long rap sheet of ‘harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, angry protests, violence...death threats, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry’ against locals who vote or donate to pro-marriage causes. In truth, the only video this court should allow are security cameras outside the defendants' homes. Maybe then the country could see what these ‘agents of tolerance' are really capable of."
And what is Perkins’ proof of this “long rap sheet”? A propaganda paper from the radical right group Heritage Foundation (the paper was funded, by the way, by the family that founded the rightwing mercenary army company Blackwater). The paper looked at supposed “harassment” during the Prop 8 campaign in California and absurdly lists all sorts of alleged minor “harassment” like stolen or vandalised anti-gay yard signs—Oh no! The message in the propaganda is that individuals here and there claimed they were harassed because of their “Christian” views, therefore they were so therefore gay people lead an anti-“Christian” conspiracy (with liberal enablers).

This is defamatory nonsense. There’s absolutely no equivalence between what GLBT people suffer each and every day and what these self-righteous people claim to have experienced. Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God. summed it up this way: “They make zero mention of the Christianity-fueled anti-gay incidents that occur every day of every year, including non-Prop 8 years. Because Christianist privilege means stolen yards signs trump beatings, bashings, and murder every time.”

The christianist extremists’ constant claims of victimhood ring shallow, as well as hollow, compared to what GLBT people actually experience. In reality, it’s the extremists’ rhetoric that leads inevitably to violence against GLBT people. Joe pointed out the realities of such violence in his post (emphasis in the original):
FACT: According to the FBI, during 2008, the year of Prop 8, there were 1617 hate crimes committed against LGBT persons. A similar number of hate crimes were categorized as being motivated by religion. The victims in almost every one of those attacks were Jews and Muslims. Now ask yourself, what do gays, Jews, and Muslims all have in common??? The Family Research Council knows.
The hatred and lies spread by Perkins’ group is repeated throughout the far right christianist movement, of course. But they wouldn’t be so successful if the mainstream media would stop cowering before their bluff and bluster and instead called them on their lies. I can—and will—hold the radical right accountable at every opportunity, but that will do nothing to stop the march of evil. We need people of conscience to stand up to radicals’ hatred and the bigotry.

And so I end this particular rant, as I have before, with Edmund Burke’s warning: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Slappy days are here again!

How on earth did I miss THIS! My e-friend Mark’s blog, Slap Upside The Head, was named “Best GLBT Blog” in the Canadian Blog Awards for the second year in a row! Congratulations, Mark!

Actually, I do know how I missed it: Mark didn’t post about it (or boast about it); instead, there was a wee, little mention on a sidebar, “The Trophy Shelf”. That’s been there awhile and I didn’t notice the subtle change until last night.

However, once I did, and went to look at the entire list, I found out that Mark was also named best “Photo/Art” blog, too. Now, Mark has made the occasional self-deprecating remark about his drawings, but to me they’re part of the charm of the site. So, well done for that, too!

Long-time readers will know that Mark’s site has been one of my favourites for a long time. Subtitled “Combatting bigotry the gayest way I know how”, I think it strikes the perfect balance between humour, outrage, information and, well, fun—often ever-so-gently at a homophobe’s expense. His light hearted-yet-serious approach is one not many bloggers can pull off. In fact, Mark manages a restraint and economy of expression most of us—especially me—can only envy.

Naturally, my campaigning for him on this blog (here and here) and on Twitter made the difference as my readers voted for him. Of course I’m kidding: He didn’t need my help to win—he did that all by himself.

Seriously, well done, Mark!

Air NZ wins ‘Oscar’

Air New Zealand has been named “Airline of the Year” by Air Transport World, an award some people call “an airline Oscar”. This is really good for the airline (and NZ tourism), and I concur: I’ve had nothing but great service on Air New Zealand, which is something I can’t say about any other airline. The company responded by giving its 11,000 staff an extra day off, which probably says something about the airline, too.

Well done, Air New Zealand!

God’s enemy, the devil’s friend

If we could pick only one living fundamentalist christianist freak to name as the person most responsible for driving people away from Christianity, it would have to be Pat Robertson. He’s been so successful, in fact, that one can only assume he has a deal with the devil.

The “demented old man”, as he’s being called, has made his living by attacking everyone and everything that doesn’t fit his far, far right extremist political agenda. He is a snake oil salesman who’s conned people into giving him millions of dollars based on lies, chicanery and absolutely insane nonsense. For example, here’s a sample of Robertson’s predictions:

  • • Pat predicted that the end of the world was coming in 1982: "I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgement on the world,” he said on his TV show in May 1980. Oddly, the world didn’t end.

  • • In May 2006, Pat declared that storms and possibly a tsunami would hit the US that year. Pat’s claim was repeated four times on his TV show. It never happened, either.

  • • On the January 2, 2007, Pat said on his TV show that God “spoke” to him and told him that there would be a terrorist attack on the United States in 2007 leading to "mass killings". He added, "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that.” It never happened.

  • • On the January 2, 2008 episode of his TV show, Pat predicted that 2008 would be a year of worldwide violence. That never happened.

  • • In October 2008, Pat said the conflict in Georgia (the country…) was a ploy by Russia to get involved in the Middle East. He also claimed that Israel would launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran, and then Syria and Iran would attack others. He said Russia would attack the US: "We will suffer grave economic damage, but will not engage in military action to stop the conflict. However, we may not be spared nuclear strikes against coastal cities. In conclusion, it is my opinion that we have between 75 and 120 days before the Middle East starts spinning out of control.” None of that ever happened.

So when a sick, deluded moron like Pat Robertson says the Haiti earthquake was “god’s judgement”, consider the source. If there really was a devil, then it could not possibly find a better friend and ally than Pat Robertson.

If there can be one good thing to emerge from Pat’s blasphemy, maybe it’ll be an end to his money-train TV preaching. Maybe, too, mainstream Christians will finally realise—and say—how morally empty and un-Christian fundamentalists really are.

Update: The Huffington Post has published some of Pat’s most outrageous quotes (there are plenty more they didn’t use). There’s something there to offend everyone.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Online m@rketing missteps, Twitter and me

Online marketing is everywhere, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Yesterday I posted about an unintentionally funny online marketing error. Today other online marketing mistakes spread and intermingled.

A few days ago, I posted a Tweet on Twitter: “Just got an email from GoDaddy offering me an Akisment activation key ‘for just $5/mo’. Um, I got mine for free when I set up Akismet.” I didn’t complain to GoDaddy or anything, just pointed out the absurdity of charging for something that’s free.

The next day, I got another email from GoDaddy saying:

“You recently received an email with directions for activating the Akismet spam filter built in to WordPress. You were told that the activation key was available at Go Daddy for $5/mo.

“It is important to note that this message pertained to the Akismet (Pro Blogger Version), a paid product. The Standard version of Akismet, included with the installation of WordPress, is available for personal use at no charge to all WordPress customers.…”

A bit of damage control that wouldn’t have been needed if they’d been clear in the first place.

That same day, a friend sent me a reply on Twitter. The friend said GoDaddy was too expensive, and I replied that at the time it was the cheapest available to me.

Then another friend replied to me saying: “I switched most all of my GoDaddy business to Aplus.net - I don't want to reward sexism any more.”

This refers to the blatantly sexist marketing by GoDaddy, which features scantily-clad nubile young women in virtually all their marketing efforts. Obviously useless on me, those materials would’ve driven me to a competitor if a good alternative had been recommended to me at the time (I need testimonials from people I know).

Today, Alpus.net re-tweeted that reply, adding “- thanks for the biz! Welcome!” Trouble is, they didn’t send it to the friend who sent the “@” reply to me or even include his username; that made it look like I’m the one who was the customer. I have nothing against Alpus.net—in fact, they look pretty good and when I get the chance I’m going to talk with my friend a little more about them.

Still, I didn’t like the implied endorsement, so I Tweeted back: “Um, if you want testimonials, you may want to get them from customers, which I'm not. That was an @ TO me, nothing FROM me.” (my reply was more private because the only people who’ll see it are them and people who follow us both (because my updates are protected).

These examples show the need for more time and attention in marketing efforts. Online marketing seems to tempt folks to send things through immediately, but they should receive the same care and attention to detail as with traditional media. Missteps online can have all the same negative repercussions as ones in old-line media.

Both these mistakes are stupid, not evil, but ones that could and should’ve been avoided. The also show how anything that happens online can instantly be connected to many things and people—including more mistakes.

Update 02 February 2010: Ironically, this post has been attracting spam comments today. Since I don't want to turn on comment moderation—which I've never really needed before—I decided to try changing the title (putting an "@" instead of the "a" in "marketing" to see if that fends off the spam. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some deal

The New Zealand Herald is running a shopping service, which on the face of it seems like a much better way of earning revenue than relying on ads. However, to be successful they may want to offer better deals than the ones pictured in the web ad in the screen cap accompanying this post. To be fair, clicking through to their shopping page seemed to offer up some good deals; pity those pictured on the web ad didn’t offer much of an incentive to find that out.

But, then, I always find goofs like that to be funny. I guess I did get something out of the ad after all.

Still no guns for NZ cops

The New Zealand Herald reported on a survey it conducted which found that nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders feel that only the Armed Offenders Squad should have guns, not ordinary police officers. Apparently, the Herald found this to be a huge surprise. I don’t.

Part of the Herald’s surprise is based on a 2008 poll that supposedly found half of New Zealanders wanted police to be armed. That poll was of highly dubious value, as I said at the time. Nearly all the evidence to date suggests that the Herald poll is a far better indicator of public attitude than that dodgy 2008 poll.

The head of the police union thinks it’s inevitable that police will be armed, but the Police Minister is planning no changes. That’s as it should be. With the police union admitting that police are not the reason criminals are carrying guns and other weapons, arming cops would do nothing to protect them, but would do a great deal to change New Zealand—including ensuring that criminals do start arming themselves against police.

There are many good reasons to leave police unarmed, and this poll result shows one of them: The New Zealand public doesn’t support a change. Union officials can ignore public sentiment, but politicians can’t. Personally, I agree with the majority in the Herald poll: Right now, things should stay as they are.

More playing with technology

Ever since I took over Nigel’s iPod Touch, I’ve been experimenting with various apps and features, most over our home wifi network. I’ve talked about some of that here on this blog.

Today I tried a feature on the “Music” app that allows the user to play podcasts at 2x speed (the default is 1x, of course, and the user can also pick half speed). As a podcaster I obviously wouldn’t encourage regular listening at 2x speed, however, it’s useful when you’re behind on podcast episodes (as I almost always am). I want to listen to my favourite podcasters and this feature lets me catch up.

It’s also funny: The podcaster almost invariably sounds as if he/she has had WAY too much caffeine. The pitch of their voices isn’t changed much, just the speed.

Everything I’ve tried so far is useful, including this speed feature, which is kind of unusual for a bit of technology. At the moment, it’s probably my favourite toy—and the most useful.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The African problem

I’ve been posting a lot about Uganda’s proposed “kill the gays” bill, and I intend to keep doing so. It’s the worst proposed law of its kind that I can remember any country proposing.

But Uganda isn’t alone in practising rampant homophobia. Writing in Britain’s The Independent, Daniel Howden reported on the extensive homophobia—and that word fits more than any other—throughout Africa. For example, “38 out of 53 African countries had already criminalised consensual gay sex. And in many cases, sodomy laws had remained on the books from the colonial era.”

This latter fact is especially ironic since the homophobic African nations usually claim that homosexuality is “un-African” and a result of colonialism. If that were true, wouldn’t the colonial powers have repealed anti-sodomy laws? But, then, no one would ever claim that logic stops the mental illness of homophobia.

No matter what happens, this whole thing will be a mess, but defeating the bill is paramount. Anything less is being party to murder.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blog links are updated

I’ve finally updated the “Bevy of Blogs” blogroll (the “Parade of Podcasts” will be updated later). I’ve added some new ones and deleted a few—either because of dead links or because it hadn’t been updated in more than a year.

If I haven’t added a link to your blog but said I would, I’ve simply forgotten—please remind me. Also, let me know if you want me to add a link, or if I’ve screwed up your link.

Eventually, I'd like to come up with some sort of category system like other bloggers use, rather than throwing them all together. What do you think works? As a reader, what do you find useful?

There, housekeeping done—for now.

Talkin’ about the weather

There are two places I’ve lived longer than any others: Chicago, IL, USA and Auckland, New Zealand. They have something in common: Both of them report official temperatures that are different than the actual temperatures people feel.

When I lived there, Chicago took its official temperature at O’Hare International Airport, which is connected to the city by a narrow strip of land—a motorway. But Chicago is mainly along Lake Michigan, which moderates its weather (cooler in summer, warmer in winter). So, the O’Hare temperature is hardly representative of what people in most of the city actually feel.

The official temperature for Auckland is taken by MetService at Auckland International Airport and at the Whenuapai Airbase. The temperature reported is supposedly the one that best reflects of the temperature across Auckland. While the idea sounds okay, the execution still seems a bit lacking.

In our experience, the temperature at our house in summer is usually between four and eight degrees warmer than the official temperature, though the difference can be as little as two and as much as ten. At 6pm today, for example, the posted temperature was 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit), but at our house, it was 27 (80.6 F). A few hours earlier, it hit 30 at our house, but officially it was 21 (86F and 69.8).

This difference means that friends and family overseas see our reported temperatures and think that Auckland is a much colder place in winter, and cooler in summer, than it actually is. Our climate is pretty mild year round, but it does get hot in summer. Overall, I like Auckland’s temperatures much more than Chicago’s. I just wish ours was reported more accurately.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Twenty-ten it is

The results are in: The folks who took part in my blog poll clearly prefer “twenty-ten” to “two-thousand ten”. I agree with the majority, as I already said.

Obviously such polls are just for fun, and not scientific—we all know that (but unlike the NZ Herald or Stuff, to a lesser degree, I don’t pretend there’s anything to it). I haven’t had a blog poll in a long time, but I think I’ll add them more often. It’s just a bit of fun, after all.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

NZ Critters

I don’t often write about New Zealand wildlife. Actually, I don’t think I ever have, though I’m far too lazy to go prowling through the archives to find out. Plants, sure—both native and exotic, and even some noxious weeds imported from overseas. But wildlife just isn’t something I usually comment about.

Late yesterday afternoon I went outside to bring in the washing and saw the stick insect in the photo above. It was maybe eight centimetres long and clinging to the side of the house. I have no idea what species it is, even though I looked at Landcare Research’s The New Zealand Stick Insect Website (which until yesterday I never knew existed).

I learned that stick insects are plant-eating (a relief…), belong to the order Phasmatodea, and they’re related to, among other things, grasshoppers, weta and crickets. I think this particular one is pretty freaky looking, but not nearly as scary looking as its cousin the tree weta (and I haven’t seen one of those in many years). Interestingly, some New Zealand species can reproduce without males (which is called parthenogenesis, by the way—your word for the day).

The website says: “When disturbed, stick insects will often fall to the ground and 'play dead' for hours. Another bizarre behaviour is the 'dance', where the stick insect sways back and forwards for hours in a peculiar motion, the function of which is a mystery.” This last one surprised me; I’ve often seen them do this, and this specimen did it if I got too close. I always thought they were trying to imitate a twig swaying in the breeze, since that’s what it looks like, in an attempt to fool predators.

At any rate, there: That’s (probably) my first post on NZ wildlife.

What the f*ck did the government say?

Among the many things I like, two—swearing and government—recently converged. Today I read a decision from the Broadcast Standards Authority on a complaint about the use of the word “fuck.” That’s one of my favourite words, and a favourite of so many of the people I know, that naturally I was interested in what the government would do with it.

Peter Lord of Christchurch complained about a programme called Amazon with Bruce Parry broadcast on Prime TV, owned by Sky Television, at 7.30pm on Friday 26 June 2009. The series looked at the Amazon region, including people, their culture and things like environmental issues.

The BSA described the episode this way:

“During the episode subject to complaint, Bruce Parry visited one of the largest illegal gold mining sites in Brazil. While there, he visited a group of men who had dug a horizontal mine shaft 60 metres into the side of a hill. Mr Parry was invited to go into the mine shaft to take a look. When he reached the end of the shaft, Mr Parry was given a pick axe and he began to chip away at the face of the tunnel. As he did this, he accidentally struck one of the overhead support beams moving it out of place. Startled, Mr Parry said, “Fuck, [laughing] you don’t want to be knocking them down too often”, before continuing to chip away.”

Peter Lord complained that, being broadcast before 8:30pm, the programme breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 9 (children’s interests) because Sky Television, which owns Prime, allegedly “did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers”.

The BSA upheld the complaint (Decision No: 2009-137), but ordered no action (like a fine or on-air apology). Personally, I think the BSA got it wrong and both it and Peter Lord in particular were way oversensitive: Context matters, and there was nothing offensive or gratuitous about the use of the word in context.

But the real reason I read the decision was to see how many times a government agency could use the word “fuck” in an official document. I have just enough of a 12-year-old’s mind left (in a jar on my desk, to borrow freely from Stephen King) that I snicker at such things. That’s why I find it so funny that the far-right in America decided to call themselves “teabaggers” and declared they’d “teabag the Congress”. I laugh because it’s funny to my remaining adolescent brain cells.

So, while the decision may be silly, my adolescent fascination with a government document using “fuck” repeatedly beats it in the silliness department.

And sometimes, we all need a little silliness.

Lying for Jesus



In the video above, Box Turtle Bulletin (where you can find more videos and analysis) exposes one of the far-right American christianist extremists behind Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill. In the video, the wingnut says, “I know more about this [homosexuality] than almost anyone in the world” and then goes to prove the opposite. He lies, distorts, lies, defames and lies so much that it’s hard to believe this is his real name or that he had any siblings. If nearly every word out of his mouth is a deliberate falsification, how can anything he says be believed?

In the video he’s seen spouting lie after lie after lie, and then he blames both the Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide on gay people (yeah, seriously) and then he accuses all gay men of molesting children. It’s obvious why the Southern Poverty Law Center branded his group a hate group—because it is.

He’s now trying to lie his way out of his involvement in the Uganda crime in the making by claiming he was duped. I think he’s lying to try and cover his hate-monger ass. His record, as shown in the video above, suggests that he’s incapable of telling the truth, and it’s about time we started calling them what they are: Hate-filled liars.

Tip o' the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Update on hate

There have been a few developments on some anti-gay stories I’ve posted about, and have been watching since. For a change, the developments are good news:

Rhode Island slaps its governor

In November, I wrote about how Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (a Republican and virulent opponent of marriage equality) had vetoed a bill giving GLBT couples (domestic partners) the right to claim the bodies of their deceased partners and make funeral arrangements for them. At the time, I called Carcieri a “heartless bastard” for the veto.

In his veto message, Carcieri said: “This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue.” To Carcieri, kicking grieving gay people in the gut is a great way to stop marriage equality. Heartless bastard really was far too kind a thing to call him.

Today the Rhode Island legislature easily overrode Governor Carcieri’s veto: The Rhode Island House vote was 67 to 3 and the Senate vote was 29 to 3. Take that, you heartless bastard!

MSM tells the truth on US-Uganda connection

On Sunday, the New York Times reported on the connection of far-right American christianists to Uganda’s proposed “kill the gays” bill. The paper identified three in particular who were heavily involved in Uganda and are complicit, despite their current disingenuous denials.

On Monday, the NYT editorialised about the three radical christianists: “You can’t preach hate and not accept responsibility for the way that hate is manifested.” Amen.

This is significant coverage from one of the most important papers in the US; even if conservatives hate it, other papers throughout the world quote the NYT.

I wrote about this story on December 13, and by that time the story was already a few weeks old. I’m glad that a major newspaper is taking up this story, so much so that I’ll overlook how long it took them. I just hope that now other newsmedia outlets will take up the story, too, so maybe this bill can still be stopped.

Some farewells

Last year, it seemed there was an extraordinary number of endings in the blogosphere and podosphere. Many of my favourite podcasts ended, or cut back dramatically, over the past year and many bloggers did the same.

On December 31, another blog ended as fellow American expat in Auckland, Nik Dirga, announced the end to his Spatula Forum blog. Nik’s was a generalist blog, far more so than my own, exploring a large variety of subjects, and always with a far less, um, rant-y tone than mine. I found many great posts and links on his blog.

In his final post, Nik wrote, “many of these folks I've met thanks to this blog are great and not at all creepy”. Naturally, I like to place myself in the “not at all creepy” category, since Nik and I met in real life when he was a guest on my podcast (Episode 71). Because of that, I can attest that Nik is not at all creepy. Another person I’d add to this grouping is Roger Green, a frequent commentor here and a great blogger himself, who I probably never would’ve “met” if it hadn’t been for Nik’s blog.

So these things we create—blogs, podcasts, even Flicr accounts—can affect people far beyond what we can know or imagine. I find that kind of reassuring.

Thanks, Nik, for your blog, great interactions and the introductions.

And finally on the subject of blogs and endings, Joe.My.God noted the unexpected passing at age 41 of Brad Graham, the gay blogging pioneer who coined the term "blogosphere" in 1999.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Auckland View: Western Park

Today I tested the still photo function of the Samsung U10 we got recently. We got it because it’s a pocket-sized camera that shoots actual HD video, which the other small, pocket-sized video cameras I saw don’t. Plus it was on sale—cheap, relatively speaking. I posted a brief test video on December 27.

The camera also takes still photos, so I decided to try it out when we were in Ponsonby today. Western Park, bordered by Ponsonby Road and Hopetoun Street. The Ponsonby Road side has three sculptures by John Radford. The three “buried buildings” represent buildings that once stood in Auckland.

The sculptures were installed after I moved to New Zealand, but that area’s all I’ve ever seen of the park. I’m told the park’s quite nice, and one day I may go have a look.

The photo above is looking to the right (with one’s back to Ponsonby Road). Sky Tower can be see poking up through the trees. The photo below is looking toward Picton Street where it meets Ponsonby Road.

And the camera? Well, the regular camera I’ve been using is better for still photos, but that’s what it’s made for (and, for the record, that camera takes lousy video). Still, if I’m out and about and have the new camera in my pocket—which was the idea in getting it in the first place—it’ll do. I just probably won’t use it when I’m planning on taking only photos.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Monday (observed)

Today, like last week’s Monday, is a public holiday. Actually, they’re bracket-observed-bracket holidays, as in, “January 2 Holiday (Observed)”. Like last week, today is a holiday because the real one fell on a weekend day (Saturday, in this case), so the observation moved to the following Monday.

This year, December 25 and 26 will both fall on a weekend, so they’ll be observed on Monday and Tuesday, December 27 and 28 (and, of course, January 1 and 2, 2011 will be observed on Monday and Tuesday, January 3 and 4). This is great.

The best part for us, though, is that we’re on holiday for another week—we planned well. We’re having what my American friends call a “stay-cation”, since we’ve been relaxing at home. Sometimes that’s the best kind.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Weekend Diversion: Learning stuff


One weekend chore we all seem to get stuck with is folding the washing. I absolutely hate it, especially those fitted sheets that always seem to end up in a kind of a cross between a ball, an exploded pillow and a deflated blimp.

This was a subject on Twitter today and there are apparently many others who are similarly unable to fold a fitted sheet. Yet the Internet can do so much more than a provide a place to share our misery, it delivers a solution.

The video above teaches how to fold a fitted sheet. It turns out there are many other videos, too—actually, I had no idea there were so many YouTube videos on how to fold a fitted sheet. I chose this one because the finished folding job was the neatest and prettiest.

Naturally, I had to try it. My first attempt (well, first four attempts, actually) was little better than before my video training. The last attempt, however, isn’t half bad—not as good as the teacher’s, but then I’m apparently not as anal, so that’s okay.

The photo below is the before and after shot (the “after” is also after four attempts…). Now, in the interest of transparency, I should disclose two things: First, as if creating a good advertising product shot, I flipped the sheet upside down for the “before” photo so it’d look worse (it wouldn’t be in the linen cupboard that way up).

The other, more important disclosure: I’m totally not serious about this. On the other hand, I just may have a neater linen cupboard now. It’s amazing what you can learn on the Internet, and some of it is even useful.

Sound advice

We found this warning on the bottom of a box that held a recent purchase. Seems like sound enough advice, but I’m hoping that they expect you to keep the extremely sharp blades out of adults, too.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Honour and dishonour

New Zealand Herald columnist Fran O’Sullivan published a very odd column today. “Passionate Kiwis deserve celebrating” was essentially a long defence of New Year’s Honours given to some people who other people feel aren’t deserving of them. She singles out some she strongly feels deserve honours. Fair enough, she and the Herald are entitled to their opinions.

But then she goes on to declare:

“The mainstream media also serve a binding function by not using the honours list as an easy opportunity to reprise all the controversies, skeletons-in-cupboards, and, black-spots that usually accompany lives that are led in the public domain. Instead, we dwell on the high spots.”

That’s a bit of a dubious claim. The New Year’s Honours list is released during the slowest news period of the entire year when, typically, the problem isn’t reprising skeletons-in-cupboards but skeleton crews of journalists. Also, she’s wrong: “mainstream media”, especially columnists and radio hosts, have often criticised honours they don’t like.

Maybe she was referring to her own paper which, despite it’s clear and obvious antipathy toward the government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, and the Labour Party generally, nevertheless editorialised in a mostly positive way, apart from a few neo-con digs here and there.

Like most long-term mainstream journalists, O’Sullivan apparently feels that all fault is elsewhere: “Out in the blogosphere it is a different matter. Right-wing blogs are apoplectic over Clark's honour. Some lefties are out-raged that [Doug] Myers has been elevated.” So? That’s the point of opinion blogs—to have an opinion.

There are very few people who’d confuse blogs with mainstream newsmedia sites, but sometimes I swear they’re all traditional journalists—at least, that’s the logical conclusion if you merely go by the acres of trees lost so newspaper journalists can trash blogs in print. Seriously, they need to chill out.

Who cares if a blog of any political leaning doesn’t like an honour for one person or another? What possible difference could it make to anyone? And even if old-line newsmedia really did exercise the imaginary restraint that O’Sullivan claims, why should anyone be bound by that?

I said
about this Honours list: “The rest of the list honours people who deserve it as well as some who probably don’t. That’s typical.” And that’s exactly the point that O’Sullivan seems to have missed: No list will please everyone—whether they have a blog or not—and they have the absolute right to say so. For the record, I was thinking of Doug Myers when I said that some honourees “probably don’t” deserve to be honoured (clearly I was neither apoplectic nor “out-raged” if I didn’t even mention him by name).

O’Sullivan has every right to defend honours given to people if she wants to, regardless of whether anyone shares her opinions. But she doesn’t have a unique or special right to express an opinion—or expect others to withhold theirs—just because she works for old-line media.

Friday, January 01, 2010

To twenty or not to twenty

Even before it began, this New Year was causing controversy in the English-speaking world, something that promises to heat up now the year has begun—well, if any linguistic disagreement can be expressed in terms implying passion. The question before us: How shall we pronounce “2010”? We could follow the example of the previous century and say “twenty ten”, or we could follow the example of the first decade of this one and say “two thousand, ten”.

Most of us born in the latter part of the twentieth century were taught to say the year as, for example, “nineteen eighty-four” or “nineteen ninety-six”. Others, perhaps older or wanting so sound more formal or dramatic, would sometimes add “hundred”, as in “nineteen hundred, twenty-eight”, and some would even add “and”, as in “nineteen hundred and twenty-eight”.

Obviously it would be absurd to say “twenty hundred, ten”, with or without an “and”, but “two thousand ten” is similar—and has some precedent. In the first part of this century, most people said, for example, “two thousand seven” because “twenty, seven” sounded like 27. I heard some TV people try out “twenty oh-seven”, but that sounded odd.

Now that we’re past the “naughties”, we have the option choosing. Which will—and which should—win? Will it be “twenty ten” or “two thousand, ten”?

I’ll be saying “twenty ten” and I don’t really care what others say—but I hope the fans of “two thousand” don’t use the archaic “and”.

What way of saying the year do you like?

Happy New Year

It’s 2010 in New Zealand, so let me be the first to wish the rest of the planet a Happy New Year!