Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back in town

We’ve been away on holiday the past few days, which is why I haven’t been blogging. We went to visit family in Paeroa, and only got back this afternoon. Both of these are sort of connected.

I discovered once we got there that my iPhone 3GS had no Vodafone 3G service, which meant data was painfully slow (I should add that an iPhone 4 did have 3G service). About this time, I also discovered that the Blogger app I used a few times was gone from my iPhone, so I could only post using a web browser which, in my experience, doesn’t work well from any of Apple’s i-devices.

We stopped by the fairly new McDonald’s, partly because we’d never been there, and because I wanted to use their free wifi. And I did. But we weren’t there long enough for a post.

I was going to set up some posts to be published while I was away, but I ran out of time to get them ready. So, with the inability to easily add posts from where I was, I just skipped it. And, anyway, I was on holiday and didn’t really feel like posting, so I didn’t use any of the other available solutions (like borrowing a family member’s computer).

Sometimes, it’s nice to just shut everything off for awhile. It would’ve been nicer if it was entirely my choice, though.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Covering the mirrors

A week ago, I wrote about how America’s rightwing had suddenly come down with a case of amnesia. And it all has to do with truth being revealed.

In that post last week, I talked about rightwing pundit and blowhard, Ann Coulter, pretending she had do idea what Dominionism is, and trying to portray it as a radical leftwing conspiracy theory. The parade of denial has continued since.

Right Wing Watch has been documenting the backpedalling as these radicals try to cover up their radicalism. An example is a rabidly anti-gay guy from a far right “legal” outfit and law school associated with Dead Jerry Falwell. He Tweeted: “Can someone tell me what a "dominionist" is? Best I can tell it's some kinda scary Christian monster that lives under liberals' beds” He tagged it “silly”. Really? Never heard of it, huh? Last year his organisation co-sponsored a conference titled “Sovereignty and Dominion: Biblical Blueprints For Victory”.

The Dominionist ideology that their god chose “Christians” alone—meaning, of course, only far-right fundamentalist “Christians”— for all positions of authority in government and the legal system, schools, etc., is seriously crazy stuff. The radical right is self-aware enough to know that mainstream Americans—increasingly sick and tired of the radical right shoving their religion into politics—would rightly reject any politician or self-important “leader” espousing such insane ideas. This is why they’re all now pretending they’ve never heard of Dominionism, even though so many of them were active in promoting it.

So which is worse: Believing in a seriously crazy ideology, or lying about that and trying to convince everyone that their lie is true?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sean Chapin’s MLK tribute

As longtime readers know, I’m a huge fan of YouTuber Sean Chapin. I think that his new video, a tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of his best yet. I suppose I would say that, since MLK is one of my heroes.

About the time of the first official observance of Martin Luther King Day in 1986, the now defunct Chicago department store, Marshall Field’s, offered free small posters of MLK, a pen and ink impression, his image against his “I have a Dream” speech. I made a special trip to the State Street store to get one; when I arrived, I was the only person asking. That surprised me—I thought there’d be a queue. I always meant to frame the poster, but it was probably lost in one of my moves—maybe the final one, out of the country. I tell this only because I never have before.

Around 1981, I went to Memphis to see a production of the gay play, “Bent”. As part of my visit, we drove past the Lorraine Motel. I was beyond words. I didn’t see the spot where Dr. King died—being at the place was enough for me. It’s stayed with me ever since.

I have no doubt that had Dr. King lived, he would be standing by my side. His whole life’s work was about justice and fairness, and I simply cannot imagine him turning his back on GLBT Americans—and not just because his widow stood with us until the end. Dr. King was a visionary, a true patriot, the sort we seldom see in America, and for all those reasons he is one of my personal heroes. Really, there’s nothing more to be said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Visiting New Zealand for that rugby thing

The video above is from Rugby World Cup 2011, and is intended to tell people coming to New Zealand for the Cup what they have to know before heading here. It features former All Blacks Josh Kronfeld and Frank Bunce (complete information for visitors is available at www.immigration.govt.nz).

I like the concept of the video—one person does everything right, the other doesn’t—but, to be honest, I think it could have been a bit sharper, and it should have made it abundantly clear that there are real consequences to getting it wrong, including fines and refusal of entry to New Zealand. The whole point, after all, is to help visitors avoid problems.

This particular video will have a short “shelf life”, but it’s a concept Immigration should revisit after the Cup.

As an aside, I couldn’t help noticing that the backing music is Apple Loops: Royalty free music distributed with Apple’s audio and video editing software. Even after hearing them used in many TV commercials and even Indie films, it nevertheless surprises me when I do because I always think of them as used by amateurs like me. Clearly I’m wrong.

All that aside, I think this video is a really good idea.

Perspective relativity

Today there was an earthquake in Virginia. My first reaction was, Virginia?!! They’re pretty rare in the northeast of the US, enough so that it struck me as really odd.

A 5.8/5.9 quake may not sound like much, especially with the much stronger jolts that hit Christchurch or Japan, but it’s certainly strong enough to cause property damage (and it did) and could have killed someone had they been under the falling debris and collapsing walls at the time. A friend has family members who live in the general area of the epicentre and they sustained some damage.

It didn’t take long for people to start mocking east coasters over the earthquake. The AP reported that much of it came from the west coast of the US, though I saw some from New Zealand, too. Apparently ex-comedian-turned-rightwing-pundit Dennis Miller led that charge. This doesn’t surprise me. On his best day, the most appropriate phrase to describe him is “arrogant asshole”. But, I digress.

I kept seeing snarky Tweets and other online comments, so I posted a Tweet and then on Google+ (which contained that Tweet). It said:
I'm puttin' on my preachin' hat!!

Look: Earthquakes, no matter how small and insignificant they may be when compared to other quakes, nevertheless can be terrifying to the people feeling them. Whether those people "should" feel frightened or whether they're "overreacting" is irrelevant. Telling them that doesn't change what they're feeling—in fact, it can make them feel worse.

I've seen lots of people piling on the snark about the earthquake in the eastern US. There's a difference between gentle humour (I've seen some) and gutless, bitchy snark from folks belittling the people who were genuinely frightened by—and this is hugely important—a rare event for the eastern US.

In time, the folks in the eastern US will calm down and their sense of perspective will return. In the meantime, more humanity, less snark, please! Oh, and remember this the next time there's a natural event you think people are overreacting to: Don't make me get out my preachin' hat!! :-)
I was trying not to be as bitchy toward the snarky people as I was feeling, but I probably didn’t succeed. It’s just that it annoyed me immensely that people were belittling the real fear that people along the east coast experienced.

Because such an event is rare, there’s every reason for people to be upset by it. But we’re talking about a region that’s on edge with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, a fact my friend Jason reminded me of. For many people, their first thought would be that it was a terrorist attack. One American news report I saw showed people in New York City expressing exactly that feeling.

It seems to me that we now have an almost need to make fun of the experiences of others, to belittle them. Social media just speeds that up and increases the audience. These snarky people really ought to stop and realise that next time people could be piling onto them. The perspective of people toward events like is relative, after all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Six months later

Yesterday marked six months since the deadly Christchurch earthquake. In this video from the New Zealand Herald, survivors of collapsed buildings talk about their experiences and their lives since that fateful day.

He goes and spoils it all

Well, that didn’t last long: Only three days ago, I praised the pope for comments he made on business and economics. It was, I noted, probably the first time I’ve ever praised him. Now it’s again time for my more common response: Criticism.

In a speech he intended to give in Spain, the pope again declared marriage is only for men and women—and also said marriages can never be dissolved. Now, quite frankly, I couldn’t care less what he or his church thinks about marriage or divorce. I’m not a member of the Roman church or even in any way religious, so his words on matters pertaining to his particular religion are completely irrelevant and meaningless to me—and for hundreds of millions of other people, for that matter. If his organisation chooses to refuse to solemnise or recognise same-sex marriages, or if they refuse to recognise a divorce of an opposite-sex couple, that’s their thing—as long as they keep it solely in their church.

The problem, as I mentioned last time, is that the Roman church is engaging in political interference in the affairs of sovereign nations, and they have no right to do that—preach, sure, interfere, no. Whatever particular religions do or don’t do regarding marriage and divorce is of no concern to the state, and what the state does is none of religions’ business. Just as the state has no right to tell a church whose wedding it must perform, neither does a church have the right to dictate to a state who can and cannot be married.

The Roman church has strongly condemned Spain for enacting marriage equality, and its US branch has actively campaigned and raised money for referenda to ban marriage equality. Among other things.

I said his remarks were in a speech he intended to give: The pope’s remarks weren’t actually fully delivered because only partway into his speech, a powerful rainstorm struck the Spanish airbase where his rally was being held. It shook the stage, knocked over a tent and blew the pope’s skullcap off his head.

Here’s my question: Isn’t that storm god’s judgement on the pope’s antique views? Whenever a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, flood, fishkill, bird die-off or some other unexpected event happens, some fool somewhere will declare that their god is passing judgement because of something they personally don’t like. Therefore, that storm must be god’s judgement on the pope’s words.

Yes, I’m joking. But, unlike the pope, I at least have a fair point.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Legalise Love

Could this be the beginning of the final chapter in the struggle for the equality of the gay and lesbian people of New Zealand? That goal at the very least has been brought a step closer by the launch of a new campaign, Legalise Love, which is “working towards two things: marriage equality and adoption rights for non-heterosexual New Zealanders.” Their launch video is above.

In 2004, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Civil Union Act, which gave gay and lesbian New Zealanders separate-but-equal marriage-like legal recognition of their relationships. Of course, by definition, civil unions are separate and unequal because only heterosexuals can marry: Gay and lesbian New Zealanders are forbidden the right to marry.

Similarly, an anomaly exists in adoption law in that a gay single person can adopt, but a same-sex couple cannot. As I understand it, only married couples and single people can adopt, so heterosexuals in a civil union or de facto relationship would similarly be prevented from adopting. If restricting adoption by couples only to those who are married was Parliament’s intent—and there’s no evidence that it is—then allowing same-sex couples to marry would eliminate the anomaly. Changing adoption law to allow people in civil unions to adopt only perpetuates the separate and unequal status quo. Leaving things as they are completely ignores what’s in the best interests of the child, particularly by complicating legal guardianship.

This new campaign is beginning with an online petition (which I hope is a way of creating a list of supporters, since online petitions are pretty worthless), and they’re planning on a March For Equality, heading to Parliament on October 20.

I think it’s odd—not necessarily bad or good—that they refer to “non-heterosexual New Zealanders”. I’m old school, and prefer to talk about what we are, not what we are not; I don’t know what that word usage gains anybody. Also, their site’s subtitle is “Proudly Promoting Equal Rights for Queer New Zealanders”. I realise I’m increasingly a curmudgeon on this, but I hate the word “queer”; it’s not the negative connotations/history of the word, but rather that I find it reductivist, assuming that gay men and lesbian women must subsume their separate identities in order to include folks who are neither, but connected in some way. Clearly that’s a topic in itself.

Semantic issues aside, I wish them well. New Zealand needs a group to push, prod and cajole the two main political parties, National and Labour, neither of which supports marriage equality. Labour seems supportive of adoption reform, and many National MPs do, too (though the party certainly won’t push it). The Greens, of course, support both.

The most important thing about Legalise Love is that it’s doing something. Most gay and lesbian New Zealanders are sitting on the sidelines waiting for a government that will finally enact full equality—someday. But power never yields anything without pressure, and that’s equally true for Labour and National governments. So, this is an important step.

And, I like their video.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Improvisation

The video above is something I saw somewhere else on the web this weekend, and thought I’d share it. However, it requires some explanation.

As part of rehearsals for her 2010 film The Tempest, director Julie Taymor asked comedic actor Russell Brand, who played Trinculo, to talk about his character. This video is how he responded: A nearly 5-minute monologue, completely improvised and in character the whole time, in which Brand provides a back-story for Trinculo. I was fascinated.

The film was not a commercial success and received, shall we say, “mixed reviews”. Taynor changed the character of Prospero to a female, Prospera, played by Helen Mirren, and some people didn’t appreciate that level of alteration to Shakespeare’s play.

I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t comment on it. However, I do like reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s plays, including several modern-dress stage productions I’ve seen over the years, as well as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, so I’ll withhold any judgement until and unless I do see it.

I just thought Brand’s improvisation was fascinating to watch. In the video below, Helen Mirren, interviewed to promote the film, refers to Brand’s improvisation, which is why I include it.

NB: This was meant to be posted on Sunday night, but didn't happen, so I had to fix that on Monday.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

When they get it right

It’s not unheard of for me to praise political opponents when they do something I agree with, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never praised the pope. Well, there’s a first time for everything.

My differences with the pope and his church would be just that—differences—were it not for their constant political interference in the affairs of sovereign nations. In the US, they are actively—but sometimes secretly—working against marriage equality and reproductive choice and in Africa they’re causing untold death and misery because of their steadfast refusal to endorse condoms as a means to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. The Roman church has made these issues political rather than doctrinal or spiritual, so they must expect political opposition from religious and secular people alike.

Still, I don’t have a problem with them preaching and teaching things I clearly have no use for, like on sexuality and reproduction; I think they’re dead wrong on those issues, but they’re entitled to their views (actually, I also think that they’re stupid to not allow priests to marry). The bottom line is, it’s their religion and they’re entitled to do what they want with it—as long as they don’t try to force me to obey their doctrine, as they’re doing through politics.

However, despite the fact I don’t agree with the Roman church on much, there are some areas where I do agree with them, particularly on the world economy and the developing world. On his way to Spain, the pope said something so spot-on, that he deserves to be praised—even by me, surely one of his harshest critics.

Speaking to reporters on his plane, the pope said: "Man must be at the centre of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by the maximisation of profit but by rather according to the common good." This is exactly what I’ve been saying, albeit less flowery and more stridently, for years. Just check out some of the posts in my tag Corporate Greed.

The pope went on, “The economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man." About this time, rightwing heads were exploding, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was absolutely correct about both points.

In fact, this is nothing new for him: In 2009, he issued his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Which in English is Charity in Truth) in which he covered the same points. Wikipedia has a good summary and multiple sites on the web offer the entire thing as a PDF.

I didn’t comment on it at the time, partly because I don’t think I knew about it—I don’t recall any mainstream newsmedia coverage. But it’s worth a read, despite the overly dense prose and tendency to promote traditional church teachings about family (yawn!).

In the early Reagan years, when the radical right “Christians” were beginning their political rise, I used to think that they and progressives ought to look for common ground to advance the things they both agreed on. I came to realise that was unlikely then, and it’s impossible now. However, the pope’s statements show that even people who disagree strongly on some issues can still find common ground on others. I haven’t lost sight of that fact, even if others have, so I’ll continue to praise my political opponents when they’re right or do something good; I just wish I had more opportunities and reasons to do so.

Update – Well, that didn't last long: Three days later, he goes and spoils it all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The one to read

If you read nothing else on the Internet today, you must choose this one: “Mommy, they are just like me.” Every time I read the whole thing, the last full paragraph makes me cry. Every time.

It’s not just that this is a great story—and it is. And it’s not just because they’re great parents—because they are. It’s because THIS is how I want the world to be, it’s what I’ve been fighting for over the past 30 years.

This being the Internet Age and all, we automatically assume all stories on the web are fake. The author of this story addresses that, too. I choose to take her at her word. Anyway, the lack of evidence to the contrary ought to be enough—we’re not talking about something world-changing, are we? Still, this is how the world ought to be, so visualising the world as a better place, where this story can happen, helps to make this a better place. Where’s the harm in that?

Maybe that's world-changing after all.

Update 20 August: Out Magazine has an update from the mother who wrote the post, and it's worth reading, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Protest too much

This morning I saw a funny video, posted it, and used the opportunity to talk a bit about how Rick Perry and Michel Bachmann are candidates of the religious lunatic fringe, because it’s important to know who’s behind the candidates and what agenda they’re all pushing. As Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, wrote on The Daily Beast, “If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.”

So it’s not surprising that the rightwing has entered full denial mode, devoting far too much energy to dismissing Dominionism. As luck would have it, I happened to land on Fox “News” this afternoon (when surfing after my regular programme on another news channel was pre-empted). Appearing on “Hannity”, Ann Coulter, above, was in full flight dismissing Dominionism with her trademarked condescension, sarcasm—and deflection.

She dismissed Dominionism as “a leftwing conspiracy theory”, claimed Evangelicals had “never heard of” the father of Dominionism (the link above has more details on him) and said that if journalists left “the Upper East Side” (of New York City, one assumes—her failure to specify suggests her own elitism) and talked to Evangelicals, they wouldn’t report on Dominionism.

I wondered at the time that if Dominionism is really just “a leftwing conspiracy theory”, why would journalists even bother talking about it? The reason for her dismissiveness is to deflect attention: Her argument is that there’s no truth to the story because the evil “leftist bloggers” and “ultra liberal journalists” are talking about it.

Her claim that “no one has heard of” the father of Dominionism is utterly absurd, given how much of his rhetoric and ideas are central to far right “Christian” theocrats. Her attempt to divert attention amounts to a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” tactic. Actually, at the time what ran through my mind was, “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for…” (references to two different movies for the same thing—I think that’s a first).

During the rest of the segment, Annie criticised the newsmedia for looking critically at the records of the Republican Clown Car Cavalcade, with both her and Hannity agreeing that “we still don’t know anything about Obama”. Yes, really: They say that seven years after he burst on the national scene and more than halfway through his first term as president, we still don’t know anything about Obama or his background. Riiiiiight. Personally, I think they should have stopped with “we still don’t know anything”—except how to attack anyone who dares to criticise Republican politicians or to expose the truth about who is behind them.

The quotes I attribute to Annie and Seany above are paraphrases. I wouldn’t soil my DVR with a Fox programme, even if it was just so I could transcribe it. The photo at top is—quite literally—a screen shot of the programme: I took a photo of the TV. I laughed when I saw the description of her as "'Demonic' author". I concur.

Two peas in the godpod

In this video from the Texas Democratic Party, Texas “apologises” for having inflicted George W. Bush on America—and now for Rick Perry. While a real apology would be nice, this tongue-in-cheek version at least hints at why Perry is so much worse than Bush was.

But beyond his truly awful record as Governor of Texas is the very real threat to freedom and democracy posed by the fact Perry’s the darling of the “tea party” evangelicals, for whom nothing other than dedication to their theocratic agenda matters. In fact, Perry’s mobilising an army of "prayer warriors” to help him win Republican primaries, particularly in states like South Carolina. These dominionists promote the “Seven Mountains” campaign in which they plan to take control of the “mountains” (power centres) of arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media and religion. They intend that all other religions will be replaced with their own, and the government will become a radically extreme far-right “Christian” theocracy.

In case anyone should doubt Perry’s commitment to the religious lunatic fringe, he had two of their “apostles” on stage with him during his infamous Christians-only prayer-a-palooza recently. He was intending to send a message, even if the mainstream media missed it entirely.

Perry also has a long record of anti-gay positions and associations. This isn’t surprising, given his fealty to the religious lunatic fringe. He even waffled on marriage equality to better meet their litmus test. Even though all this pandering to extremist fanatics could be only expedient lip service, him using them to get what he wants, we can’t afford to take that chance.

Meanwhile, Perry’s chief rival for the religious lunatic fringe vote, Michele “Crazy Eyes” Bachmann, allegedly pals around with an alleged terrorist. And the fact that I use the word “allegedly”, when no one on the right would ever do that in similar circumstances, is not lost on me.

Perry’s ties to the dominionists on the religious lunatic fringe and Bachamann’s alleged ties to an alleged terrorist will play well with their base—the religious fringe, lunatic and less so—but it spells danger in the general election. Writing on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, two political scientists, David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, point out that with the “tea party” completely out of step with mainstream American voters, any candidate or party that embraces them too closely risks major defeat and tainting the party for a generation.

We can only hope.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New from Erasure: “When I Start To (Break It All Down)”

I didn’t feel like doing a regular post today, so instead here’s the new single from Erasure, “When I Start To (Break It All Down)”, the first single from their new album Tomorrow's World, to be released on 26 September (CD single & Digital Bundle), with a one-track version available on 29 August.

It’s a different sort of sound from Erasure, partly because of the change in Andy Bell’s voice over the 26 years the band has been active. I’ll be interested to see what the rest of the album sounds like. Personally, I’m hoping it’ll have some good summer tunes.

Erasure - When I Start To (Break It All Down) by Mute UK

Monday, August 15, 2011

Snow in Wellington

Today it snowed in Wellington, and the video above by Ro Tierney shows some of what it was like on Cuba Mall. This was the first time it’s snowed in Wellington in some 40 years, and judging by the looks on the faces, the people enjoyed it.

There were also snow flurries in Auckland’s CBD today—the first time since the 1930s, or nearly twice as long as it’s been since Wellington’s last snow. Auckland’s was minor, and didn’t last, and even now no snow is expected below about 200 metres.

But the extent of the snowfall, and the very cold weather, is the main news story in New Zealand at the moment. I kind of like that, actually.

What’s wrong with copyright

Today, Allan Freeth, Chief Executive of telecommunications company TelstraClear, issued an opinion piece on New Zealand’s new “three-strikes” supposedly anti-illegal downloading “Skynet” legislation. It’s so good, and I agree with it so completely, that I’m going to do something I never thought I’d do: Publish a corporate media release on my blog. In my opinion, this is that good:
Very soon, many Kiwis will have a new niggling worry when they think about their Internet when the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011 comes into effect.

TelstraClear respects copyright and supports the ability of rights owners to realise value from their intellectual property. But a business model that has to be propped up by specific legislation in this way is flawed and needs to change.

In 2009 we led the charge in opposing plans that could have seen customer internet accounts disconnected without proof of copyright abuse. The new law addresses that particular issue (at least for now).

What it will not do is provide copyright owners with the redress they are seeking. It may encourage parents to take more notice of what their kids are doing online, and that’s a good thing. But it won’t stop those who really want content from getting it.

The problem is that much of what Kiwis want simply isn’t available to buy here.

We know, because in 2009 we ran an online survey of more than 1000 Kiwis to find out why they download copyrighted content. They told us they’re tired of paying too much, and waiting too long.

They view the packaging and distribution of physical copies of music, movies and games as unnecessary and costly, and claim the business model is outdated and out-of-touch.

These are the opinions of the ‘now’ generation, and the growing population that has never experienced the world without a TV the internet, and the freedom this offers.

New Zealand’s distance from the source of much content has been conquered by online access, but simply making it available online while retaining old price structures and wait times doesn’t work.

Three main themes emerged from our survey on how to reconcile the financial needs of artists with Kiwis’ expectations for affordable, new and rare content.

Respondents suggested building a stronger direct connection between the artist and end-user to reduce the old-world overheads and online purchase price.

A try-before you buy mechanism was proposed. For example, tier access with free low-res video and music and pay access for high quality versions. Content supported by advertising and user/fan supported content were also suggestions that came out of our survey.

Finally, they said, change the scope of the copyright laws and focus on those who seek to make a profit from the illegal copying and on-selling of content.

As stated, TelstraClear respects copyright, but we respect the ever-changing needs of our customers too. At present, they are being denied the freedom to choose by companies intent on propping-up old world business models.

Rather than investing in innovative ways to legally provide people with the content they want, whether music or movies, pictures or programmes, these companies choose to pressure governments into legislating.

Instead of bringing in a law that we believe will not and cannot work, our government should be breaking monopolies, allowing personal choice and letting New Zealanders experience information and entertainment when the rest of the world does.

Instead, it has chosen to introduce a law that could turn ordinary Kiwis into law-breakers.
I hope other companies—and our many political parties—advocate for the repeal of this bad law.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Winter storm

If I mention a winter storm in connection with Auckland, chances are good that it’s more or less just a storm that happens in winter. Sometimes it might have a bit more rain, or be a bit cooler, but otherwise, not very different.

This time, it is a bit different.

There’s an Antarctic chill sweeping up the country, bringing snow as far north as Wellington (at least), which is unusual. Snow on the Central Plateau isn’t unusual, and when that happens—as now—it often makes Auckland colder than usual.

And it is colder in Auckland than usual: The reported temperature in Auckland a little while ago was around 10 (50 in US Fahrenheit degrees). It’s actually colder at our house, of course, and it will get colder still, maybe colder than the cold snap last month. We’ll see.

Actual snow is unlikely in Auckland—it’s happened only rarely, and the last time was a very long time ago. However, snow showers are predicted down to as low as 200 metres (above sea level), so it’s possible the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland could see it, as could some other ranges in the area. Closer to sea level, sleet and possible hail will be it. For me, as a native of Northern Illinois, such weather in winter is common enough, but at least we usually got the “winter wonderland” to reward us for enduring the rest.

Actually, earlier this evening, my Northern Illinois-raised ears thought the winds outside sounded like those of the common winter storms I grew up with. Except with moonlight, stars—and no snow. So, I guess, not really.

This evening, plenty of Kiwis have been Tweeting about their weather, some posting photos of the unusual snow. I don’t expect to get the chance to do the same. It’s just a winter storm, after all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cavalcade of bigotry

At the Republican "debate" in Iowa, all the Republican candidates for president expressed support for a Constitutional Amendment to ban marriage equality throughout the United States, except for Ron Paul (who has anti-gay positions on other issues). Jon Hunstman apparently opposes an amendment—he didn't actually say, but did say it was a local (state?) matter. However, Huntsman does oppose marriage equality, though, unlike ALL the other candidates, he backs separate and completely unequal civil unions. Pardon me for not being grateful.

Bottom line for me is that none one of these morons will get my vote.

The video above shows the candidate’s comments about marriage equality (or outlawing it). The entire 13-minute section of the “debate” where they talked about “social issues” (which is where the anti-gay section above comes from) is also on YouTube. It’s worth watching, if only to see Michele Bachmann squirm and spin when asked—justifiably—if, given her oft-stated fundamentalist “Christian” religious beliefs, she would “submit” to her husband should she be elected president. That’s a legitimate question because she plays her religiosity as one of her virtues, one of her selling points, so voters have a right to know how far that extends, or even if she really believes what she says she does.

Friday, August 12, 2011

First refuge of despots

ALL despots want to suppress dissent—they can’t rule if people actually have a say. So, it’s not surprising when authoritarian regimes crack down on freedom of expression, but supposed democracies? That suggests the closing of a free society.

In response to the riots in England, the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said that his government is looking at banning people from using social networks like Twitter and Facebook “if they are thought to be plotting criminal activity.”

The simple reality is that there is absolutely no way to “ban” people “thought to be plotting criminal activity” without also banning everyone else—just as Iran and Egypt and Libya tried to do in the face of popular uprising.

I’m not trying to equate the UK riots with the uprisings in the Islamic world, but neither am I saying they’re NOT the same—I’m in no position to comment. What I’m saying is simply that despots always try to close down channels through which opposition to the government can communicate, and in that sense alone, David Cameron is no different than the dictators in Iran.

The rightwing may not like modern democracy—messy, intemperate, overly emotive—but they have no right to try and suppress it. If they do, they should not be surprised at any civil insurrection that follows. That’s not an endorsement, by the way: It’s a warning.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yet another example

Here’s yet another example of the gratuitous cruelty of the United States’ immigration laws as they pertain to GLBT couples. The video above tells the story of Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk, a gay couple who have been together for 19 years and who legally married in Massachusetts several years ago. Yet because of the infamous Defense of Marriage Act, their marriage cannot be recognised by immigration authorities, meaning that the men are complete strangers to one another in the eyes of federal law.

This matters because Makk is a native of Australia and—because the US Government refuses to recognise their legal marriage—Makk now faces deportation to Australia before the end of this month.

Adding another layer of cruelty, Makk is the primary caregiver for Wells, who has AIDS. Because of those health issues, Wells can’t emigrate to Australia. So, the US Government is set to rip apart a couple that’s been together 19 years because of a blatantly unconstitutional law that still lingers and that the Obama Administration is still fully enforcing. The US Government is about to split up a legally married couple, and take away a primary caregiver, because of the hatred and bigotry of some US politicians and the cowardice of the Administration.

This sort of thing will continue to happen until DOMA is struck down by the courts or repealed by Congress. Neither will happen—neither can happen—for many years, perhaps a decade or more. Meanwhile, Republicans are clearly preparing to make gay people their wedge issue yet again, with many of their presidential candidates already openly calling to amend the US Constitution to permanently ban marriage equality. With the zealotry and fierce religious bigotry of the modern Republican Party, don’t think that couldn’t happen.

And caught in the political crossfire are real people like Makk and Wells, people who suffer the gratuitous cruelty of the Government of the United States. And that’s exactly the way the hatemongers of the anti-gay industry like it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Teabagger thank you

This video, with a voiceover by D.C. Douglas, expresses just a tiny fraction of the contempt I feel for the teabaggers. Their sole purpose is making sure that President Obama is a one-term president, and they don’t care who or what they have to destroy to make that happen. I really can’t say anything else about the teabaggers, because if I did, this blog would instantly get and “adult” warning for language. So I will add only that I have a special contempt for those who deliberately try to destroy the US to advance their very peculiar ideology.

Monday, August 08, 2011

'Adidas' means greed

Adidas has bought itself a world-sized cup of bad feelings over its pricing of replica New Zealand All Blacks jerseys. The jerseys, which are made overseas, sell for around $220 in most New Zealand stores, but less than half that from online stores overseas.

The difference is the wholesale price charged by Adidas. Major chains in New Zealand make roughly the same margin on an inexpensive t-shirt as they do on these jerseys, according to an article in the New Zealand Herald, so have little incentive to sell overpriced Adidas jerseys if New Zealand consumers balk at paying so much.

Adidas has said nothing about the controversy so far, but—again according to the Herald—last week Adidas “confirmed some overseas websites are being investigated to see if they were breaking a cross-border agreement which stops them from selling to New Zealand residents.”

So, Adidas is ripping off New Zealand consumers, charging more here than anywhere else, and then they try to make sure New Zealand consumers can’t get a better deal overseas. Adidas are such nice people.

Adidas is a major global brand and doesn’t need to do this. Since New Zealand is a small market, Adidas can’t possibly sell enough jerseys at these exorbitant prices to subsidise lower prices in other countries. So, the only logical reason for the ridiculously high prices Adidas charges here is that they could; that, combined with them trying to close-off any other options for New Zealand consumers, proves Adidas’ real motivation: Greed.

So, no thanks, Adidas: The jerseys you sell here aren’t twice as good as the same ones you sell overseas. I think the next time I’m in the market for the sorts of products you sell, I’ll only consider your competitors. I’m sure your competitors thank you for your excellent customer focus and good business ethics.

Yeah, sometimes sarcasm is the only serious response possible.

Update 09 August 2011: It has been confirmed that Adidas is trying to prevent New Zealand consumers from buying the jerseys overseas, ordering online stores to stop shipping to New Zealand. They have also refused to lower the price, and gone on a ham-fisted, tonedeaf PR offensive. Last night, Adidas had the cheek to declare that New Zealanders "know they are supporting New Zealand rugby when they buy a replica All Blacks jersey". Bullshit. New Zealanders know they’re supporting the profit margins of Adidas and nothing more. It is absurd nonnsense—and highly dishonest—for Adidas to try and portray their exorbitant prices as being like some sort of donation to support rugby in New Zealand. New Zealanders just aren’t that stupid!

Adidas also said, "The price of the All Blacks jersey is comparable to other licensed replica jerseys being sold in NZ." Whether that’s actually true or not is irrelevant. The issue here is that Adidas is knowingly, deliberately and greedily gouging New Zealand consumers on this jersey, not some non-specified “comparable” one.

This has been an unmitigated PR disaster for Adidas, one they created and have happily made even worse. Adidas has become a case study in how to destroy goodwill and customer support. An online poll on the NZ Herald website showed (at the time I viewed the results) that 90% of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Would you boycott Adidas over its rugby jersey stance?” The poll is not scientific in any way, but results that are this lopsided show the depth of strong feelings.

And this isn’t even over yet.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Violence and not

 The illustration at left (click to embiggen) is of actual comments from Fox “News” viewers responding to the lawsuit filed by American Atheists Inc. against the placing the World Trade Center “cross” in the memorial museum on the site. The “cross” is actually two steel beams from the collapsed towers that happened to land upright, reminding some people of a cross.

I think the lawsuit is a dumb idea for reasons I’ll discuss another time, but it’s not the reason I’m posting this image. First, there’s the sheer hypocrisy: Far right religionists have treated every ill-advised, intemperate comment placed on a gay blog as if it was an actual threat of violence. One famously claimed to have “called in the FBI” after some particularly bad comments on Joe.My.God. (where I found the graphic). The anti-gay industry still cites the existence of such comments as evidence of the “persecution” and “threats” from GLBT people that fundamentalist “Christian” activists claim to face. Yet here in this graphic are threats of violence against atheists—and that’s all okay?

I think that this also shows that rightwing “Christians” hate atheists even more than they hate GLBT people, perhaps more even than Muslims; there’s polling data that seems to indicate that, as well as their own online comments, like above. And this leads to irony.

A new Gallup Poll has found that among religious people, Muslims are most likely to reject violence, followed by atheists. Who’s least likely? Christians.

Asked whether military attacks targeting and killing civilians is justified, 78% of Muslims answered it is never justified, as did 56% of non-religious/atheists/agnostics. Only 38% of Protestants said it was never justified, as did a similar 39% of Catholics, and a mere 33% of Mormons. 43% of Jews also said such attacks were never justified.

Asked specifically about violent attacks on civilians by individuals or small groups, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons and non-religious are all within a few points of each other, 71-79% saying such attacks are never justified. But 89% of Muslims say that—well ahead of everyone else.

What all of this tells us is that no one has a lock on virtue and that our prejudices about other people based on their religious description may not necessarily be justified. We cannot know someone’s propensity for violence because of their religious beliefs, or lack of them, alone, and we cannot assume, without more evidence, that asinine threats left online are real, credible threats of actual violence.

I think everyone needs to take a step back and think about the extent to which their assumptions about people based on religion are, in fact, prejudice, and how that might affect all sorts of behaviours, from speech to voting. I intend to do exactly that when I return to this topic in a few days, using that atheist lawsuit as the starting point.

In the meantime, in the words of a leading maker of atheist videos for YouTube, “don’t be a douche” when talking about other people’s views about religion or presenting your own. I think that’s a good starting point.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Every child deserves a family

In the video above, “C”BN, Pat Robetson’s extreme far right “Christian” channel, interviews a spokesbigot for the far right Heritage Foundation on why same-sex adoption will create a black hole that will devour the entire earth. Or something like that—their lies, stupidity and illogic make it too hard to make any sense out of their babbling.

I’m not going to waste my time countering all the lies and disinformation the appropriately-named Chuck Donovan spews, though he said very little that’s actually factual. However, he said it was “indisputable that children need both a mother and a father”. That’s always been the basis for the right's opposition to adoption by same-sex couples. My problem with this isn’t just that it’s nonsense not supported by real science done by real scientists, it’s the absolutism of their religious-based ideology: Children are always better off with a mother and father at home?

Oh, really? From today’s news: