}

Monday, December 31, 2012

Another New Year's Eve

It's another New Year's Eve, the end of another year. It's also almost the start of a new year.

I have no traditions for New Years. I do remember, however, that my mother used to have us take a lit candle to every corner of the house. It was a Pennsylvania Dutch (German) tradition, she said. Nowadays, I think that it was a remarkably unusual thing for a preacher's wife to do. No wonder I'M so unusual...

Tonight we had Chinese takeaways for dinner. No reason, it was just easy. The photo above is of our usual place. It may not look like much, but it's the best Chinese we've yet found in Auckland. And it was good, as always.

We also watched the newest "Muppet Movie". We all sang along with "Rainbow Connection". Bliss.

As darkness fell, people in the neighbourhood started letting off fireworks—as they have every night for the past couple weeks. Nice (that's sarcasm, by the way).

The evening turned oddly cool for a summer evening, and we put on jumpers and sweatshirts and the like. This is weird, but it's been a weird summer so far.

We moved inside—too cold outside. The most recent Transformers movie is on Sky Movies now. It'll do. Wines have been had, after all.

And still we have time to kill.

Well, some of us did. Some went off to bed after 11—amateurs!—and I waited with the youngest niece. She's a trooper. And off I go now, to wait for the new year, some 15 minutes away.

Good night—and Happy New Year!

Final 2012 Internet Wading

Every year, plenty of stuff doesn’t make it into this blog, and that’s why I do Internet Wading posts—for the “best of the rest” stuff. I don’t do these posts as often as I should. Roger Green does his "Ramblin’ with Roger" posts regularly (like his latest), and that’s where I got the idea—but I’m not nearly as organised (in many ways, actually…).

Nevertheless, I wanted to share a few things that just didn’t make it into a post this year, for whatever reason.

First up, the federal budget is nothing like a family’s budget. Back in February, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) took apart a story from ABC News (USA) that made this analogy. This is particularly relevant now with all the talk about the “fiscal cliff”, because it shows how the analogy—and conservatives—are wrong.

Sticking with politics, a couple recent tidbits about the last election: Steve Singiser grades the pollsters on Daily Kos and finds—surprise!—the greater their Republican bias, the less accurate they were. Worst was Rasmussen, which many people already knew, and it’s why I don’t quote them on this blog. Among the most satisfying consequences from the election, the latest Nielsen ratings show that Fox Noise “commentator” Sean Hannity has lost half his audience since President Obama’s re-election. Apparently it has something to do with Hannity constantly claiming that President Obama would lose in a landslide. Clearly, being spectacularly wrong has consequences.

On a very recent issue, Jeff Greenwald asks on The Guardian site, “Who paid for the Log Cabin Republicans' anti-Hagel New York Times ad?”. He concludes that the gay Republican group is being used: “Gay advocates are the exploited tools in this effort. We should at least have some transparency about that fact.” Interesting, though I have no idea if he’s right.

Speaking of gay politics, I can’t believe that I didn’t blog about the speech actress Sally Field gave at HRC's 16th Annual National Dinner. She explained why she loves and supports her gay son, Samuel Greisman, and why she’s an advocate for LGBT people. It was a moving speech and I could have sworn I’d posted it here.

Finally, something not about politics at all: It’s about an airplane. Many years ago, Boeing recruited people to provide input into the design—and naming—of their new plane, which ultimately was dubbed The Dreamliner. I was part of their “World Design Team”, providing some feedback (for the record, I advocated for more leg room). Last month, they sent out a “Dreampass”, allowing people to view videos of take off and landing from the cockpit, as well as 360 views of the fuselage, engines and wings. I thought it was pretty cool—but, as part of the World Design Team, I suppose I would.

And that’s all the wading that fits in this year. More—and more often, I hope—next year. Happy New Year—and Happy Internet Wading!

Arthur answers

Last week, I opened up this blog to reader questions. Technically, this isn’t new, of course, because I’ve answered questions both on this blog and, especially, on my podcast. Still, I haven’t used a post to directly ask for questions, so it was new in that sense.

I received two questions, which pleasantly surprised me. In this post, I answer them. The first question comes from jianfei shao:
"We see societies all over the world evolving constantly. Do you have an image of an ideal society? What is it like? (just a short general idea I guess). From your experiences, is New Zealand anywhere closer to that ideal than US as a country? If so by how much?"
Thanks! That’s actually a question I’ve written about only in parts, so it’s nice to have a chance to kind of link it all together.

My image of an ideal society is one that adheres to the principles contained in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNUDHR), and all true democracies do, at least to some extent. But that doesn’t go far enough for me.

Chief among the things I think must be there for an ideal society is that LGBT people are treated as full and equal citizens. That means, among other things, that they have the same rights and legal protections as all other citizens, including the right to marry, and they don’t face official or cultural oppression or violence because of who they are.

Also, I don’t think Article 19 of the UNUDHR goes far enough because freedom from religion is every bit as important as freedom of religion: No person—including the non-religious—should ever be oppressed by a religion they do not share, or forced to comply with religious edicts. Secularism is the only acceptable religious stance for a government: Government should not interfere in religion and religion should not interfere in Government.

One final thing my ideal society should have is proportional representation. This is the best and fairest way to achieve truly representative democratic government. Non-proportional systems inevitably lead to the least popular parties ruling government at least some of the time.

So, because of those three additions, New Zealand is closer to my ideal than is the USA, and here’s why:

LGBT issues – New Zealand forbids discrimination against LGBT people nationally, the US doesn’t; NZ recognises same-gender partners for immigration, the US doesn’t; NZ is poised to enact marriage equality nationwide, and has civil unions at the moment, the US doesn’t.

Religious issues – New Zealand is a mostly secular state, even though a clear majority call themselves Christian. Still, more than a third say they have no religion, which is a much higher percentage than in the US. While New Zealanders are relaxed about religion generally, they do not like religious people interfering in politics, while in the US, far right religionists (Christians in particular) control the Republican Party and the conservative “movement” generally, placing their particular religious dogma at the centre of conservative politics. That’s simply not possible in New Zealand.

Finally, Proportional representation – New Zealand has the MMP electoral system, which, though certainly not perfect, is far fairer than the US system. For example, our current Parliament pretty closely matches the results of our last election, but in the US, Democrats running for the US House of Representatives last month received over a million votes more than the Republicans, and Democrats should be in control of the US House. The reason they aren’t is a combination of a bad electoral system and gerrymandering, which is a topic on its own.

I should add that based on all this, while New Zealand is closer to my ideal than any other country I’m aware of, Canada is second (its electoral system lets it down, and it has far too many religious conservatives interfering in politics). Australia is about the same as the US because of its strong rightwing religious political interference and its lack of marriage equality or even civil unions, and also because its electoral system isn't as proportional as New Zealand's. The UK is in that same grouping, too, because of the lack of full marriage equality and its unrepresentative electoral system.

There you have it: Human rights and human dignity are at the core of my perception of an ideal society, and New Zealand is closer to that ideal than any other country I’m aware of.

Next up, Roger Green asked:
"Tell of a time when you were working very hard on preparing for a project/event, but which, at the last minute, you were unable to finish because you got sick, or lost, at the last minute. (It's happened to me.)"
Fascinating question, Roger—and one I really had to think about!

Just this month, I was nearly unable to complete a work project for the first time ever because of some things in my personal life, but I pulled it out at the last minute. When I first thought about the question, that was what popped into my head. But it was an “almost” thing.

The truth is, I can’t think of anything that matches your question precisely. To be sure, some projects have been somewhat similar—chiefly podcast episodes that didn’t happen, our trip to Pride 48 in Las Vegas last year that we had to cancel, even a video project I abandoned—but none of them quite match your question.

Closer is this: Back in 1987, while I was still an activist, I was part of a team planning a statewide conference for our fellow activists, following on from a successful similar one the year before. We spent months in planning meetings, securing a venue, booking guest speakers, organising workshops and publicising it. At very near the last minute, we had to cancel it due to lack of registrations. It was profoundly disappointing and demoralising. But the fault was in our stars, not ourselves.

The only time that I got sick and couldn’t do something was when I got an inner ear infection and was too sick to fill out my ballot papers for the local government elections (they’re done by post), so I missed the deadline and didn’t vote (the only time in my life that I knowingly didn’t vote).

So, I don’t have anything that precisely matches the question, which means I’ve been very, very lucky!

Thanks, both of you, for the questions. Feel free to ask follow-up questions if you want to—that goes for anyone, actually.

I may even do this again some time!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mom’s treasure

A rainbow sealed it. It wasn’t a sign or portent, nor anything remotely spiritual, just a rainbow. And it cleared things up.

Today my mother would have been 96. She’s been dead for more than three decades, and I’ve lived more of my life without her than with her, yet every year at this time I remember her birthday, and her.

She died when I was in (very) early adulthood, too early for me to learn about what that phase of my life would be like. Because my father died some seven months earlier, there was no one left to answer my questions, to warn me of pitfalls or offer advice (solicited or not), nor, to be honest, to catch me when I stumbled. And I did.

Yet I found my way, helped by some amazing people (and some of them are now gone, too). From each I learned something that built on what I learned from my parents, my mother in particular. All of that led me to where I am now (literally and figuratively).

And yet today, as I was thinking about my mother’s birthday, and the impending new year, I wondered to myself at one point, “would she be proud of me?” It was a silly thought, because the only logical answer is “of course!” She was proud of me when she was alive, and I’m at least as good a person now as I was then (better, I like to think).

And in the years since she died, there have been plenty of things I’ve done or accomplished that I knew would make my parents proud. I was never one of those kids who spent their lives trying to win approval from their parents, and definitely not one who never got that approval. My parents made it clear I always had their support, approval and love. They were proud of me.

So the question that popped into my head today was actually more about what they’d think of what I’ve accomplished so far in my life. Yes, of course they’d be proud. But I also thought, in the kind of existential/temporal conflict kind of way that I seem to do, them being here to be able to be proud of me would mean that my life would be completely different—it would change everything, and I probably wouldn’t have had anywhere near the life I’ve had. Yeah, I laugh at myself for thinking like that, too.

This evening Nigel and I took the dogs down to the habour for a walk. It was nice. As we drove home, the rain started to spit, and when we got to the top of our drive, there was a rainbow with one end seeming to disappear behind the house right in front of ours—the rainbow’s end seemed to be our house!

No, we didn’t find a pot of gold when we got here, but maybe I found something else. The treasure my parents, my mother in particular, gave me all those years ago is still keeping me. And I’ve found the end of my rainbow, right where I live. That’s even better than a pot of gold.

Thanks, mom. And Happy Birthday.

The photo above shows the rainbow this evening, which ended at our house (you can’t see our house in this photo because it’s behind, and somewhat downhill from, our neighbour’s house.

Related:
Tears of a clown – one of my favourite posts about my mother

Previous years’ birthday posts:
Memories and words (2008)
That time of year (2009)
Remembering birthdays (2011)

My own funny numbers

After the past two days spent lambasting our friends on the radical right for their use of funny numbers, I have one more bunch of funny numbers to expose: My own.

Like nearly every site on the web, I collect aggregate data about visitors to this blog. I don’t collect any personal information whatsoever, of course, just how people got here, what they read, how long they were here, those sorts of things.

The idea is this data it helps me to know what “works” and what doesn’t. I don’t let that information dictate what I write about, but it does show me what my strongest subjects are, if by “strongest” I mean “most viewed”. When I’m undecided about what to write about, I’ll sometimes go with my “strengths” and prioritise posts on those subjects. Not always, but sometimes.

Blogger has pretty much always counted the number of pageviews (that is, the number of times a page is accessed) from visitors of the blogs it hosts, and as Blogger has become more tightly integrated with Google, that information has become easier to see—and use. I recently enabled the widget that shows the total number of pageviews. I did so in the interest of being transparent, and so new readers will know I have some accumulated activity on this blog.

However, I had some reservations about posting this information, as shown by this Facebook exchange between Roger Green and me back when I hit 150,000 pageviews:
Roger: Yeah, but 143,000 of them are me.
Me: No, Roger, you moved the decimal point. You're 14,300 of them. 99% of the rest are spambots.
And that’s actually the core of the issue: Spambots account for a lot of those page views. Accidental and brief visits, like people who arrive from a Google search, also account for a large number of pageviews for many sites. This is why people talk about “visitors” rather than “readers”: Many pageviews are not from people who actually read anything.

So, to sort of balance things, I also enabled public stats on the StatCounter widget that’s been on this blog since not long after I started it. Its pageview counts have always lagged behind the “official” count, partly because I started it counting later, and also because it seems to track data more cautiously.

I figure that the real number of visitors lies somewhere between the two totals, but I don’t know where. I also don’t have any good data about how many visitors are readers. The point for me is that it tells me I have at least SOME real readers, and what they appear to like best.

But that’s not the truth I wanted to expose. Actually, the real reason the widgets are there is that I like watching the big numbers get bigger. Even though I know that many of them aren’t “real” pageviews, and even though the legitimate pageviews of big sites dwarf my dubious numbers, I still like seeing them. Very funny numbers, indeed.

Spinning is not winning

The same far right religious political group I wrote about yesterday is still trying to spin poll results to try and make it look like they’re not losing. I’m beginning to feel embarrassed for them and their obvious desperation.

Yesterday, at the same time that I was writing my post about how “Protect [sic] Marriage NZ” was using its site to promote phoney numbers as if they were real, they were posting a new item basically doing the same thing. In yesterday’s post I mentioned how they used Twitter to promote a NZ Herald story that showed older New Zealanders (65+) are the only ones who oppose marriage equality, because that they were “desperate for any good polling news, and this is all [they’ve] got.” That same day they posted a new item to their site (but not promoted on Twitter) under the screaming headline, “Latest poll shows even split for/against gay marriage!”

Only, it doesn’t. Of course.

What the poll of 613 readers of Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper said was that 35% favoured marriage equality and 35% opposed it. That seems like a split, but wait—what’s this? That only adds up to 70%—what about the other 30%?!

It turns out that “Just under a quarter described themselves as ‘neutral’ on the subject, while a further 6 per cent had no opinion.” We’ve been here before, of course, when the extremists argued that marriage equality was losing support because respondents were given the option of answering that they “did not mind one way or the other”. I pointed out that the time that IF those people were opposed, they would have said so (and, in fact, outright opposition was down). Those poll results actually showed that nothing had changed.

It’s a similar story with the DomPo poll: 30% of respondents could have said they opposed marriage equality but did not. Instead, they chose a response to indicate that they’re neutral or “don’t care”—in other words, they “did not mind one way or the other”.

The DomPo doesn’t give us enough information about the poll to know for sure, but it’s certainly possible that some of that 30% aren’t supporters of marriage equality—but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re opposed: Neutral means they’re not taking a stand by choice.

The fact is, polls have consistently shown that opposition to marriage equality is roughly a third of New Zealanders, with the vast majority either supporting it or “did not mind one way or the other”. It’s nothing but spin to say that an opposition of a mere 35% amounts to a “split” among New Zealanders.

But this assertion is something that’s not the fault of the religious extremists alone. The DomPo headlined its article “Gay marriage debate likely to split families”, despite failing to provide any evidence to support that claim. The lede says, “The Labour MP behind the bid to legalise gay marriage expects the debate to divide grandparents and grandchildren.” No, she never said that in the article, only that it had the potential to split families. “Likely” and “potential” are not the same thing.

My argument with the wording is that the entire article was set-up with a conservative bias, since the assertions were not supported by the article or the poll it reported on. Everything was conjecture from people commenting on the fact that polls show that older people were more likely to be opposed to marriage equality, but no evidence whatsoever was presented to show that people would be talking about this issue at all, let alone splitting families over it. It was lazy journalism.

None of which lets the religious extremists off the hook for deliberately spinning the poll results to try and pretend they say something they don’t. What our opponents have not yet learned is a simple truth: Spinning is not winning.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Numbers and real truth

NZ’s extremist religious right just can’t stop using phoney numbers to fight marriage equality. That’s because the numbers aren’t on their side—they’ve lost the fight and they know it.

The spokesperson for the radical right “Christian” “group” “Protect [sic] Marriage NZ”, Bob McCoskrie, posted to their blog earlier this month a piece he titled “Support for redefining marriage continues slide in polls” (my long-standing policy is that I don’t link to far right sites, so to read it yourself, you’ll have to copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/W9Ecg8). There’s not even a grain of truth in that headline.

His post’s headline referred to a screengrab of a “poll”, which he credited as “From the TVNZ website” (he provided no link for verification). The “poll” was, in fact, an online poll that many sites—including this blog—have used. They have absolutely no scientific validity whatsoever.

Bob wasn’t done, however, and also posted a screengrab of an online “poll” from Yahoo! News. Bob again provided no link, except to a six-month old post on his own blog. Like the “poll” on the TVNZ site, it has no scientific credibility whatsoever.

He also posted yet another online poll, this one from “NZ Herald in August” (yet again, he provided no link to the source). Like the “poll” on the TVNZ site and the Yahoo! News article, the Herald “poll” has no scientific credibility whatsoever.

This has been a trend among our opponents on the right: Using online polls as if they’re real polls. Personally, I would never refer to such polls unless it was to point out how utterly irrelevant they are, or to point out some thing interesting about it, like when the usually conservative NZ Herald’s online “polls” produce results that are not conservative, as was the case with that “poll” Bob posted.

The reason these polls are irrelevant is because of what’s called “self-selection bias”, which skews results and makes them unrepresentative, and that makes the “poll” useless for anything other than entertainment. Social scientists call such polls, appropriately, SLOP, which is derived from “self-selecting opinion polls”. But don’t take my word for it: Here’s a Google search of academic articles about the problem of self-selection bias.

Bob actually did refer to one legitimate poll—but it’s from September, and the results of that poll didn’t say anything close to what he claimed they did. I discussed this at the time (and yes, that’s a link to a three-month old post on this blog, but it has links to the poll in question, as well as other polling data, and the reasons why Bob is wrong in what he says about that poll’s results).

As I’ve made clear many times, I’m a stickler for accuracy in political debate, and in this case, that means using real polls numbers accurately, and avoiding quoting rubbish non-polls from a website. Bob is not in any way unique in using phoney numbers to try and make his case—I’ve seen plenty of people, both left and right, do the same. But because he’s fighting against me and my right to be a full and equal citizen, you can bet I’m going to call him on it—and anyone else doing it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Marriage Equality: 2012 in Review


2012 was certainly a HUGE year in the battle for marriage equality! The video above is the annual review from Matt Baume, now of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. The video description says:
“Here we are at the end of 2012, and after a year of amazing progress we're closer than ever to full federal marriage equality. Think about where we were a year ago with Prop 8, with DOMA, with marriage laws from state to state. So much has happened since then. So let's do a quick year-in-review to get you caught up with the progress we made in 2012, and where we're going to focus in 2013, including which states are the most likely to make headlines in the coming year.”
I said about last year’s video:
“The thing that struck me is how the momentum of the fight has clearly shifted in our direction, further evidence of which can be found in the increasingly shrill and strident tone of our opponents. The fact that polls are now in our favour bodes well for the future, and our success will come sooner, rather than later.”
That was certainly correct, because 2012 was a huge year for marriage equality—and this year he didn’t even mention overseas developments, like marriage equality clearing its first hurdle in New Zealand.

There will be more good news next year—more victories, more progress. The trend is now completely obvious for anyone who bothers to look and pay attention.

All of which is very good news, indeed.

Liberal values

I saw the above graphic all over the Internet recently, but didn’t have time to comment on it at the time. I think it’s especially good at showing the core difference between liberals and conservatives.

There’s been an appalling increase in selfishness among those on the right. We see it most clearly in their Ayn Rand inspired rhetoric about “makers and takers”, that “taxes are theft” and similar greed-based talk about how all people should be on their own.

The essential philosophical flaw in this rightwing view is that no one is an island—we all depend on each other for our survival, no matter how advanced the society or how high our economic status. This is true even for rich conservatives: A business cannot function without customers, and customers cannot be customers without money. It is in business’ self-interest for their customers to have enough money to be customers. Even Henry Ford knew that.

However, conservatives think that liberals want to just give rich people’s money to the poor to sit around and do nothing. There’s no truth to that at all. Instead, liberals want to reduce harm, such as bad health, poor education and bad housing, and that takes money.

Liberals also want to increase fairness. Most people accept that allowing discrimination against people solely because of their race or gender, among other things, is inherently unfair, and we accept the need for laws to prevent discrimination.

Conservatives argue that as long as everyone has the same—such as, they pay flat income tax rates (or, as in the graphic above, they stand on the same-sized box)—then everyone is equal. Liberals say that we need to work actively to reduce inequality (like making sure everyone can see over the fence) because doing so reduces harm and increases fairness. We want to spend money not on handouts but on a hand up for poor people.

The social contract in western democracies has long been that we pay taxes according to how much we make so that we can collectively build a base beyond which struggling people can’t fall. We all—liberals and conservatives alike—want people to take responsibility for themselves, and to use their natural abilities and talents to take them as far as those abilities and talents can take them. We liberals see helping the least among us as not just a duty, but as a necessary step toward making that shared goal possible.

Equality is necessary for any society to function. Without it, social resentments can lead to violence, but even when it doesn’t, it holds back the entire society. Easing inequality, then, is for liberals a basic and important goal. This graphic shows that liberal view well.

There’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet. Sometimes, there are good and effective visual representations of issues, etc. This graphic is one of those.

I have no idea who made the graphic, or I’d give proper attribution.

Debating the fringe

On Christmas, several relatives told me about an early December "debate" on TVNZ's "Breakfast" programme between TV psychologist (and marriage equality advocate) Nigel Latta and well-known far right religious extremist, Bob McCoskrie (with whom I had enlightening Twitter, um, exchanges I obliquely referred to in this post). The relatives told me about how Latta did well, and the nutjob did very, very badly. Well, night before last I watched it on demand and they were right!

McCoskrie argued that since he can't become a nun, therefore, gay couples shouldn't be allowed to marry. Yeah, I can't follow that "logic", either. Bizarre reasoning aside, he missed a very important point: What the Catholic church decides to so with its religious staff—priests, nuns, monks—is of no concern of any government. Governments shouldn’t tell churches who can and can’t be nuns or priests, and churches shouldn’t be able to dictate that government obey their religious dictates.

So, this suggests that McCoskrie doesn’t understand separation of church and state, that the fact that he can’t become a nun is an issue between him and that church—and totally irrelevant to the question of whether governments should treat all citizens equally. And, anyway, polls show that growing majorities of Catholics support marriage equality, so Bob might want to use an analogy from a group of people friendlier to his odd and antique views. Like maybe the Klan or something.

Anyway, if you want to see a religious raving lunatic bark utter nonsense, and a rational mainstream person counter it, check it out on TVNZ’s On Demand service (may not be available in all countries). But you don't really need to: No Kiwi takes McCoskrie seriously—he's a total self-parody and joke.

I’m not kidding about that, either: When he started popping up on TV as the voice of rightwing Christianity in NZ, I thought he was practicing deep-cover parody, because he seemed to be trying to discredit far-right politics in this country (Poe's Law again). The fact is, he’s the real deal, and quite serious; he just doesn’t realise he’s a joke.

The “Breakfast” debate was held on the day that New Zealand’s Campaign for Marriage Equality released their campaign video, “Marriage Equality Matters”, which I blogged about at the time. It turns out, the video’s premier was actually on that day’s “Breakfast” programme, but, since I stopped watching the show ages ago, I never saw it. It was one of many things this month that I missed, but would have blogged about.

I still have a few days to catch up with some of them before this year is done.

This post is a revised and expanded version of something I originally posted to Facebook and Google+.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day, probably the biggest shopping day of the year in New Zealand. We actually ventured out to the mall closest to our house, but didn’t end up buying anything at any of the numerous Boxing Day Sales. I did pick up some items on special at the supermarket in the mall—does that count?

Tonight we’re going over to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner, which will be nice. You could call it our St. Stephen’s Day Feast, but that would be silly because, Good King Wenceslas notwithstanding, few people I know have ever even heard of the day (though Kiwis of Irish and Welsh descent may have).

Mostly, this was just a quiet day after Christmas, with all the dogs—ours and the visiting dog, Boy—all napping contentedly. So, a good day in other words.

Well, apart from that rain humidity, but that’s the way it goes.

The Queen’s 2012 Broadcast


Here, as has become my tradition, is the annual Christmas Broadcast from Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of New Zealand (etc.) and Head of the Commonwealth. She’s also head of the Anglican Church, which explains all the overt religiosity. My mind always drifts when she starts the religious part.

To be honest, I’ve always thought that these messages are a little too slow moving, maybe even a bit dour. And, they seem to make the video private at some point in the year following, which is weird. So, this could be your only chance to see it.

I don’t remember ever seeing one while living in the USA. That’s probably part of the reason I make a point of watching them.

And, posting them is now my blogging tradition.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Meri Kirihimete

It's Christmas  Day in Auckland. And it's raining. But it'll be a good day all the same. It always is.

We have fewer people joining us this year—we're seven adults and two children all up—so we won't have trouble fitting all of us in the house, where it's cooler, anyway. But, then, we also have a large covered area outside, not that we're likely to use it today.

It'll be a day of food, drink and fun. Like always. So a little rain won't matter, because it'll be a good day. It always is.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Amid the madding crowd

This afternoon, I needed to venture out to pick up a last couple items for tomorrow’s Christmas Feast. It wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

My sister-in-law accompanied me (she only needed some malt vinegar), and off we went to the local small shopping centre that has the grocery story I go to. The carpark was packed. We waited, someone left, someone didn’t, and we moved on to take another park just as the lady who didn’t leave, who we were waiting for, decided to leave after all.

Waiting for the new park, a man decided that he should have that spot. He was wrong, and left searching for a new space, one he could legitimately claim. I should say now, because I’ll forget later, that when we left, we got out as fast as possible so others waiting for a park could select our space quickly and easily.

The small mall/shopping centre/whatever wasn’t all that busy, really. However, the grocery store had sold out of English muffins—can you imagine?! Well, they did have two packs of fruit ones—for which I gasped in horror, not the least because they simply wouldn’t do for our Eggs Benedict Christmas brunch.

A lady, who apparently had never been to a grocery store before, took forever at the checkout. Because she did, I noticed a window sign in the more-or-less health shop across the way for “Tart Cherry” which, I surmised, was good for gout. A quick stop and $50 later, and I had some pills to try out.

Off, then, to the butcher, after some discussion of possibly walking between shops, and who might do so—something that would not have been a good idea for either of us. I picked up the steaks for our Christmas BBQ dinner. The sister-in-law, some salad stuff at the greengrocer. Then, it was on to another, smaller grocery store.

Our final stop supplied us with English muffins (hooray!), some dip for the vege platter (which was NOT on the list, but needed), and some other odds and ends we couldn’t get at the other store. Then, it was home.

Thai takeaways rounded out our Christmas Eve evening. The restaurant was empty when we arrived, but as we waited, the phone rang with large bookings for that evening. Home again, some wines and such and the evening ended.

Now, as we ease toward the big day of Christmas, we are far from the madding crowd. Everything is good, and to all, a good night.

And thanks to the sister-in-law, who suggested this blog post topic.

Season’s Greetings

I enjoy accuracy and truth and, if I’m really honest, a bit too much pedantry. So I’ve always loved the slogan, “Axial Tilt: It’s the Reason for the Season”. The slogan pisses off dour fundamentalist Christians, which is a bonus, but I like it because it’s true: We have summer and winter because the earth tilts at 23.4 degrees off the perpendicular (relative to the ecliptic plane), so axial tilt is, quite literally, the reason for this season—and all the others.

So, in that sense, “Season’s Greetings” on a Christmas card is perfectly legitimate, though perhaps only when referring to the reason for the season. That’s all pedantic enough to really please me.

I know that some people get very upset indeed when people don’t acknowledge the Christian side of the holiday, but, quite frankly, I don’t really care: Such Christians almost always refuse to acknowledge the pagan (non-Christian) origins of most of their holiday: The Christmas tree, carolling, mistletoe, holly, yule log, Santa/Father Christmas and even the date of December 25 all have origins in non-Christian beliefs. So, it seems to me that it’s more than a little precious to expect everyone to treat Christmas as a totally Christian holiday.

People of many religions—as well as none at all—enjoy the Christmas holiday in its secular form. That’s not going to change. Even though some people and some retailers like to focus on their personal religious beliefs around the holiday, they can’t seriously expect those of us who believe differently to do the same.

To exist, freedom of religion must, as I often say, also mean freedom from religion, and that means that those of us who don’t share in the Christian belief structure are entitled to celebrate Christmas in the way that most makes sense for us, just as Christians are entitled to celebrate the way they choose. Freedom of religion.

But axial tilt really is the reason for the season, with or without religion.

I created the graphic with this post using an image in the public domain. I claim no ownership over that image, but the composition is licensed under my usual Creative Commons license.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What do you want know?

I’ve been posting to this blog for over six years, but I haven’t talked about everything. It’s not hard to figure our what I think about issues, what I get up to, and so on, but obviously there’s always more. Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks.

For the first time ever, I’m opening this up to questions: About me, about New Zealand, about being an expat—whatever! If there’s a question you’ve had, now is the time to ask, and I promise to answer truthfully—well, insofar as I’m able.

Simply post a question in the comments (anonymous comments are okay), or send me an email (link at right, under “Contact Me”). Either way, I’ll answer them in the order received, maybe over several posts (if I’m fortunate to have many questions). If you email me, of course I can withhold your name when I reply (just let me know, or give me a pseudonym to refer to you).

If I get no questions—which is highly probable, actually—I’ll just count this post as one more toward achieving my goal of an average of one post per day for the year. So, I’ll still “win”.

Note: My answers to the questions are now posted, too.

This idea, like several others on this blog, is actually “borrowed” from my Blogging Buddy™, Roger Green, who recently posed his latest “Ask Roger Anything”.

Worth quoting: Lawrence O’Donnell

In this video MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell slowly and methodically eviscerates the marketing speech delivered by Wayne LaPierre, head of the USA’s main gun lobby group, the NRA. No one deserved this treatment more than LaPierre, who tried to exploit the massacre of little kids to make money for his group and to try and prevent more sane gun laws in the US.

The most idiotic, moronic and vile thing LaPierre said was that there should be armed police in every school. What made it such a stupid thing to say wasn’t the estimated $6.7 BILLION cost, but the fact that he apparently seriously thinks we’ll believe that it would mean massacres wouldn’t happen. The graphic below shows how pathologically stupid that is and, by extension, how vile LaPierre is for thinking we’ll fall for his bullshit.

Yesterday, I got into a “discussion” on Google+ with an advocate of “armed citizens”, someone I don’t know at all. It didn’t go well. That person used illogic, served up a mild ad hominem attack on me and was full-bore aggressive because I dared to poke holes in the "armed citizen" fallacy. Then the person dismissively shut down the debate with "honestly I am tired of this nonissue being the focus while our kids are dying," because, obviously we cannot discuss gun issues to try and come up with a rational solution to prevent kids dying without first turning the US into the Wild West. As Lawrence pointed out in the video above, such an “armed citizen” was present when a madman opened fire on a crowd gathered to meet-up with former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, but the “good guy with a gun” couldn’t fire back because he couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t accidentally kill another innocent person.

All of which, in a nutshell, is why the gun debate never gets anywhere: The gun lobby won’t tolerate any regulation, not matter how sensible, and they declare their positions to be non-negotiable. The self-righteous stand they take, that anyone who disagrees with them isn’t merely wrong but mentally and morally defective and an enemy, represents everything that’s wrong with the conservative “movement” in general, the rightwing gun lobby in particular.

The lesson I learned on Google+ was to never engage in any discussion on this issue with strangers, since it's clearly pointless. But maybe if a few more people in the mainstream media and in politics had the guts to stand up to the NRA and demand rational regulation and policies, the US might get somewhere on this issue. I’m not optimistic that will ever happen, but I keep hoping it will.

Tip o' the Hat to The Daily Kos.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Yet another Republican nutjob

This from a Republican state legislator in Texas:
I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns. Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything.
So sayeth that Republican oracle, Representative Kyle Kacal (R-12), who clearly knows a thing or two about a thing or two, though apparently he is unable to walk and chew gum at the same time—at least, not without dragging his knuckles on the ground. Again. Not that it makes him any different from other Texas Republicans, of course. Kyle promises to block all attempts to strengthen gun laws in Texas, including a simple law to instruct people how to secure their assault weapons:
People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense. Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up.
And this is why ol’ Kyle is a towering intellect in the modern Republican Party: He has a flair for the stupid. It’s also why he’s so typical of that party.
Via Joe.My.God.

Let’s talk about marriage equality


This video from Australian Marriage Equality urges people to talk bout marriage equality this Christmas. I think it’s a splendid idea. The more people talk about it, and the more people understand that this affects people that they know and love, the more likely they are to support marriage equality.

I have a few quibbles with this video—the music track was too loud, the voices were of inconsistent levels—but I think that, overall, they did a good job. Anything that promotes dialogue is a good thing, I think.

Here in New Zealand, we have even more of an imperative: In the new year, the New Zealand Parliament will take up marriage equality. While everyone expects it to pass easily, anything could happen. So, it’s important that everyone expresses support for marriage equality to their local Member of Parliament.

There are also plenty of US states—including my native Illinois—where marriage equality battles are looming.

This Christmas, let’s talk about marriage equality.

Frank talk on Scalia

Rep. Barney Frank, the 16-term openly gay Massachusetts Democrat, gave one of his last interviews before leaving office to Michelangelo Signorile. Speaking of US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, he said:
I was glad that he made clear what’s been obvious, that he’s just a flat out bigot. I’d previously said he was a homophobe. And Fox and the rightwing said, ‘Oh just because he’s not for same-sex marriage?’ And I said, ‘No, let me be very clear. That’s not it. This is a man who has said you should go to prison for having sex.’ It was an extraordinarily abusive sentiment and it was dead wrong. And, by the way, for a guy who is supposed to be so smart—quite stupid.

This young man said to him, ‘Why do you compare sodomy to murder?’ And he said, ‘Well because I have a right to say if I think something is immoral.’ Well the question wasn’t about his right. The question was, by what morality is expressing your love for someone in a physical way equivalent to killing that person? It makes it clear that the man is an unreconstructed bigot, and given that you have a bigot on the Supreme Court like that, it is useful to know.
I couldn’t possibly agree with him more.

Friday, December 21, 2012

And I still feel fine


Today is December 21, 2012 and we’re still here. So, it appears the Mayan Apocalypse never happened. The fact is, these things never happen because no one knows when, precisely, the world will end. There are plenty of things that could do it—super volcanoes, asteroid impact, war, etc.—but none of them were seen by a civilisation that couldn’t even predict its own demise.

Neither can religious crackpots accurately predict the end of the world, though they can certainly make money from pretending that they can. No one—NO one—knows when the word will end. People need to stop pretending or believing that anyone does, and those that persist in that belief, well, mental health professionals might be of some assistance.

There are many things in this world I’m not sure about, but one I am sure of is this: This is not my last post to this blog.

Free, open and smart

I’m a strong advocate of a free and open Internet, and for Creative Commons as the best alternative to the stranglehold of media conglomerates. Together, the two provide the best options for collaboration, creativity and free expression. But some just don’t get it.

Today I wanted to post a fundraising video related to Creative Commons. The code was bloated and if used as provided would have taken up the visual space usually given to an entire blog post. I’m not an HTML coder, but I tried what I knew to fix the issues, to no avail. So, the video isn’t posted and the fundraising project gets no publicity on this blog.

The point isn’t really that organisation’s hapless social media integration, but, rather, the fact that this is a common failing. Non-profits and corporations alike just don’t seem to grasp how best to use social media, which is astounding, considering it’s so bloody easy.

So, here are a few tips for the clearly incompetent:

First, videos: All videos should be embeddable with simple code. Look at the code YouTube provides to embed video and if yours is longer, it’s total rubbish. SIMPLE is what counts—no padding, no weird borders, shadows or framing, no stupid text links to what’s already in the video—just simple, clear code that can be scaled to fit the available space (again, like YouTube does).

Next, Twitter posts should be as short as possible so one can add comments. I often skip re-tweeting an interesting Tweet because it’s too long to add my own comment, even when I delete extraneous hashtags. Shorter is better.

Hardly any group gets Facebook (or Google+) right, either: It should be easy to share without a lot of added nonsense (the preview almost always provides some of the text, so why add that to the auto-generated Facebook post?

And finally, sites should have clear and obvious re-use/licensing policies. It’s shocking how many sites, mainstream and, especially, non-profit, don’t make it clear what can be used under what circumstances.

This little rant was inspired by a good fundraising effort for a good cause that was ruined because the group couldn’t even get the simplest things right. Groups—and businesses—really need to ask themselves whether they want to be shared, spread and talked about or ignored. Getting social networks right is shockingly easy—and so often done wrong. The choice should be easy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not borked

One political fight from the Reagan years that still resonates was the battle to prevent Robert Bork from becoming a justice on the US Supreme Court. To this day, conservatives consider Bork, who died Wednesday (US time), as a sort of martyr. To those on the centre and left who fought his nomination, as I did, he was a divisive symbol of conservative judicial activism.

When Bork was nominated, I was a board member of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the state’s only statewide LGBT civil rights group at the time. I was becoming increasingly active on federal issues, and the Bork fight was one of the first I took on.

I received an anti-Bork flyer from some group—I forget which one, though at the time I knew—and I adapted it for our group. That flyer is in the photo with this post (click to embiggen). That same, October 1987 newsletter, contained an article I wrote titled “Bork Battle Begins” (then as now, I liked alliteration in titles). Here's that story:
Beginning what some are calling the most important civil rights battle since the 1960s, the US Senate Judiciary Committee has opened hearings on the nomination of Robert Bork to the US Supreme Court. In his opening statement, Bork declared that his philosophy of judging is “neither conservative nor liberal,” but based on a responsibility “to discern how the (Constitution’s) framers’ values, defused in the context of the world they knew, apply to the world we know.”

Bork’s belief in “original intent” means, among other things, that he doesn’t believe in a Constitutionally protected right to privacy—especially for lesbian and gay people. As a Court of Appeals judge in the District of Columbia, Bork ruled that “it (is) impossible to conclude that a right to homosexual conduct is ‘fundamental’ or ‘implicit’ in the concept of ordered liberty” (Dronenburg v Zech et al.). He has also spoken and written disparagingly of the rights of women and blacks. His more moderate tone before the Senate Judiciary Committee has led some Senators to wonder which is the real Bork, and they have begun referring to Bork’s “confirmation conversion”.

Meanwhile, organizations around the country, and Illinois, have called for the rejection of Bork’s nomination. The Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently joined other groups in a meeting with assistants to US Senator Alan Dixon (D, Illinois), in an effort to persuade Dixon to oppose the Bork nomination. Dixon’s staff was non-committal, but on Monday, September 14, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Dixon was leaning toward approval of Bork. Though Dixon’s office denied the report, Dixon’s often conservative voting record in the Senate suggests that his vote is highly questionable.

US Senator Paul Simon, Illinois’ other Senator, has expressed reservations about Bork. But Simon is a Democratic presidential candidate, and his final vote is uncertain.

The Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force is urging all of its members and supporters, and everyone who believes in “Justice for All”, to phone and write to Senators Dixon and Simon. Say YES to justice by saying NO to Bork!
The first thing I must say about that is that I certainly wouldn’t write that way now. But, that was 25 years ago and a lot has changed, including me. It was also intended as political speech for our organisation, and not as objective reporting.

Ultimately, of course, Bork’s nomination was rejected. On October 6, 1987, the Senate Judiciary committee voted 9-5 to reject the nomination, making rejection by the full Senate inevitable. On October 23, 1987, the Senate voted 58-42 against confirmation. Both of the US Senators from Illinois at that time, Alan Dixon and Paul Simon, voted to reject the nomination. The chair of the Judiciary Committee was Joe Biden, who is now Vice President. When Bork’s nomination was rejected, the replacement nominee was Anthony Kennedy who was far less rigidly conservative than was Bork.

There’s one odd aside I learned just today, that the word bork was given a specific meaning I’d never heard: "To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way." That definition was clearly coined by conservatives. The reason it surprised me is that I’d always heard that slang term used as a synonym for broken, as in, “his TV is totally borked.”

On October 11, 1987, not even two weeks before Bork’s nomination was rejected by the Senate, several hundred thousand people took part in the “March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights”. I was there. One of our chanted slogans was “Bork Bork!” and that usage meant, fairly obviously, “reject”.

Nothing has happened in the 25 years since those days to change my opinion of Bork, or what a disaster it would have been for the US if he’d actually made it to the US Supreme Court. But other disasters—Scalia, Thomas, Alito—did make it through. Still, the US is lucky that so many of us stood up for what was right and prevented Robert Bork from borking the US Constitution (there, that word back in its correct usage).

The flyer pictured above, and the text of the newsletter article I've reprinted, are from the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force Monthly Bulletin, Volume 1, Number 4, October, 1987. It is from my personal archives.

Equality in Illinois?

My native Illinois may enact marriage equality next month, a little over two years since it created marriage-like civil unions. The move comes in the wake of three states enacting marriage equality at the ballot box last month, and polls consistently showing most Americans support marriage equality, as do most Illinoisans.

This week the Chicago Sun-Times said in an editorial that “It’s time for gay marriage in Illinois. Not in the distant future. Not in the near future. But now.” The Chicago Tribune has not yet editorialised on the proposal, but in the past it has supported marriage equality.

Now wingnuts, anti-gay hate groups, bigots and religious extremists have come together to “The Coalition To Protect Children & Marriage," a hilariously ironic name, since marriage equality is what protects children and marriage, not preventing marriage equality. The far right opponents are veritable who’s who of extremists (mostly religious, some secular), anti-gay bigots and far right crackpots. The group is led by a Republican ex-state legislator who was once the leading anti-gay bigot in the Illinois House of Representatives, until her extremism became too much even for her staunchly Republican district and she lost her own party’s primary. She now heads the group founded by Illinois’ leading wingnut crackpot, the completely irrelevant Phyllis Schlafly, whose career is now made up of desperate attempts to convince people she and her stone age ideas matter to anyone other than her fellow wingnuts. The reality is, she hasn’t been relevant in Illinois or US politics for a generation.

So, what we have on one side, supporting marriage equality, are mainstream voters and the political and media establishment. On the other is nothing more than the usual cabal of the crazy, extreme and bigoted, a cadre of negativism that mainstream people don’t want anything to do with. This bodes well for Illinois.

If the Illinois General Assembly does enact marriage equality next month, Governor Pat Quinn has pledged to sign it into law, and that will be that: Illinois doesn’t permit binding referenda from citizens, so all the negativists and haters could do is get an advisory referendum on the ballot—basically, a taxpayer-funded opinion poll.

We have passed the tipping point in the marriage equality debate. Even if the Illinois legislature doesn’t enact marriage equality next month, it is inevitable that it will, sooner rather than later. Time and history are on our side, something even the shrill negativists and haters know. The power of love is unstoppable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When one is busy

I’m always busy, it seems, as so many others are. Usually I manage to blog on a regular basis, but that’s been harder this year, and podcasting largely impossible. My first inclination is to think I’m not as good as the people who overcome such obstacles, which probably means I’m telling you more about me and my psyche than I should, but there you go. Blogging.

It’s not just about being organised and prepared and such, even though I often tell myself it is, because I’ve always been a spontaneous blogger, writing about what interests me at that very moment. I’ve never been particularly good at preparing blog posts in advance, though I wish I were.

Same with podcasting. Most of the podcasters I know record in advance of when they actually post episodes, sometimes WAY in advance. Not me. If a recorded episode isn’t posted in 24 hours, it probably never will be, and I have many, many “lost episodes”. Blog posts, too, for that matter.

Well, that’s the way things were. It’s time to adapt to the new reality: I’m busy almost non-stop now, and finding the time for spontaneity is getting harder and harder. So, in the coming year I hope to be able to prepare blog posts and podcast episodes in advance so that I can keep to some sort of regular schedule. I hope to be able to slip in additional blog posts and podcast episodes whenever a topic grabs me, but at the very least I hope to maximise time when it’s available so I can publish new content on a regular basis. The way I see it, what’s the point of building a relationship with followers if I don’t provide new stuff?

That’s all what I hope to do. Whether I succeed or not, well… This year hasn’t been great, but a new year always provides the opportunity for a restart, a reboot. Even when one is busy.

About those cases

The US Supreme Court has agreed to take up two cases regarding marriage equality in the US. There is one thing we know for certain: No one knows what the Court will do.

I’m not a lawyer or legal scholar, but even if I were, it wouldn’t help. Still, you need to know where I’m coming from before I comment because, like everyone else, my lack of qualification doesn’t stop me (or any of us) from guessing what will happen.

One thing I thought was very interesting was the questions the Court asked in the two cases. I think the way the Court rules may actually be related to those questions.

In the Proposition 8 case, the Court wants the petitioners (the anti-gay people) to file a brief on whether they have standing under Article III, Section 2 of the US Constitution. If the Court determines that, no, they don’t have standing, they could dismiss the case without ever ruling on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 itself, or whether voters have the right to enshrine discrimination in their state constitutions. That would leave the earlier ruling in place and marriage equality would return to California, without the larger questions being settled.

I doubt very much that the Court will use the Prop 8 case to strike down similar anti-gay amendments to other states’ constitutions. At the most, they might rule that there was something wrong with Prop 8 itself, but only in the context of California, but my bet would be that they’ll rule very narrowly, perhaps only on the issue of standing, ruling that the anti-gay side doesn’t have standing to defend Prop 8.

In the challenge to DOMA, the Court asked if the fact that the Executive Branch was not defending the law took away the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. They also asked whether the “Bipartisan” Legal Advisory Group has Article III, Section 2 standing to defend the law. The “B”LAG was created by Republicans in Congress to defend DOMA when President Obama said he would not; whether or not that’s constitutional is itself an interesting question. Constitutionally, Congress makes laws, the President enforces and defends them and the Supreme Court adjudicates conflicts laws create. Granting standing to “B”LAG could create a separation of powers conflict.

So, on the DOMA ruling, it wouldn’t surprise me if, because of the separation of powers issues, the Court denied standing to “B”LAG. On the other hand, since the issues in DOMA are huge and national, the Court may take the case to deal with those issues, especially because Section 3 of DOMA is so blatantly unconstitutional.

The Court seldom makes radical rulings and generally follows public opinion, not lead it. Roe v. Wade was one case where the Court was way ahead of public opinion and four decades on, the country is still divided over abortion. However, the US is increasingly supportive of marriage equality, as demonstrated by the elections this past November when three states enacted it by referendum. So, the Court doesn’t risk being very far in front of the public.

The potential issues are this: If the Court upholds Proposition 8, then it will have to be overturned by ballot measure (and it almost certainly would be). The worse part would be that legal challenges to similar state constitutional amendments could collapse. But this all seems highly unlikely to happen, unless the Court finds that the majority can discriminate against a minority through ballot measures (unlikely, and it would be a huge worry for all minorities in the US).

If the Court upholds DOMA, it would be a Dred Scott-like decision—deeply flawed, wrong in law and morality, and one that would obviously be overturned by a later Court. This is not a likely outcome. If that happened, it would await the faster option of repeal by Congress, probably 15-20 years from now.

The Supreme Court has usually been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. As the US has moved consistently and inevitably toward fully embracing marriage equality, there’s now no reason to think the Supreme Court will take a backwards step on these cases.

My bottom line prediction: They will overturn both Prop 8 and DOMA, though perhaps only on very limited, even pedantic grounds.

Monday, December 17, 2012

NZ podcast guest spot

I almost never mention my podcast on this blog anymore, and when I do it’s because of a special reason. Like, this one.

I was recently a guest on “The Egonomist”, a Wellington-based political podcast. That episode is now posted to my podcast site.

This was the first time since I started podcasting in 2007 that I’ve been a guest on a New Zealand podcast. The reason is simply that there just aren’t many independent podcasts in this country. Instead, most are what I call “Commercial Podcasts”, that is, recorded versions of radio and television shows, or things put out by government or businesses. They’re the sort of things that iTunes Store promotes instead of independent content producers

There are sometimes NZ podcasts from non-profit organisations (like churches) or political groups, but not many of them and many don’t last or are sporadic. Since there are only a handful of independent podcasts in New Zealand at any given time, it was probably only natural that sooner or later we’d record together (and I’ll have the hosts, Dan and Dave on my podcast next year). We also have similar political views, which made it even more likely we’d record together.

I’ve listened to them for quite awhile now, and I follow Dan and Dave on Twitter (highly recommend them both), where we’ve had good conversations, a few laughs and some fun. All of which made me feel like I knew them long before we recorded together.

I am a podcast listener as much as content producer (these days, probably more so), and I’m a booster of independent podcasters and podcasting. I think it’s a wonderful medium, which is a topic in itself, I suppose.

But for now, check out the episode. Links for The Egonomist and Dan’s and Dave’s Twitter feeds are on my podcast site.

Ban ‘robocalls’

Everyone I know hates automated telemarketing phonecalls, better known as “robocalls”. Here in New Zealand, we don’t get them during political campaigns, and only rarely for other marketing. However, I’ve been getting three or four a week (from the same people) for several weeks, and I absolutely hate, loathe and despise them. I think robocalls should be outlawed.

Here’s a little fact about me: I’ve never bought anything marketed to me on a cold-call phone call. Nor do I donate to any charity that uses telemarketers. The reason for the first is that I can’t trust that they’re legitimate, and the reason for the second is that the telemarketing company takes a cut—sometimes the vast majority—of every dollar raised. If I think it’s a good charity, I’ll make a direct donation so they get all the money, not just a portion.

The calls I’ve been getting are hawking life insurance, which I think must be some sort of scam: No legitimate insurance company would use robocalls that begin with an ominous voice warning, “this is an important message for all New Zealanders”. Um, no, it isn’t at all important—it’s a bloody nuisance, is what it really is, a pointless intrusion into my day.

I always used to hang up the minute I heard, “This is an important…”. Then, I let the message play in the hope it would cost them money and a real-live operator would come on and have to determine that I was ignoring them. But, the calls are probably free or nearly so, and they don’t have real people, just a prompt to dial 1 for more information.

So, today I thought I’d dial that one and tell them to stop calling me. I got another recording telling me to leave my name and address, and to speak slowly and clearly. Yeah, that sounds totally legitimate.

So, speaking VERY slowly, dragging out each syllable, I told them to stop robocalling me and that if they didn’t I’d bill them for $30 per half second. I made that number up on the spot. Later, for my own amusement, I decided on a legal-sounding script I’m going to use when they call again, as they certainly will.

New Zealand has a completely voluntary “Do Not Call List”, but only members of the marketing association (whatever it’s called—I’ve forgotten, and don’t really care, to be honest) can use it, and even then it’s completely voluntary. Put another way, it’s total bullshit.

I think that New Zealand should enact a REAL, mandatory “Do Not Call List” that all telemarketers must use, without exception.

I also want robocalls banned. The reason I want them banned is that no machine should be able to disturb one’s life without the real live human recipient having any recourse. When I get a telemarketing call from a real human, I’ll politely tell him or her that I’m not interested, and then I hang up. They seldom ring again. But a robocall provides no such option, no way to complain apart from being a smart-arse to their voicemail, something they’re sure to ignore. And there’s something about a recorded hawker that’s just automatically many times more annoying than a real human.

The current government hates any regulation of business and will never do anything to make life better for ordinary consumers. So, there will be no mandatory “Do Not Call List”. Robocalls will also not be banned.

At least I’ll have plenty of opportunity to amuse myself by being a smart-arse to some scammy company’s voicemail.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Christian Left


In this video, Dan Savage issues the same challenge that I often have: Those on the Christian Left must speak up not to me or other liberals, but to the right. Rightwing Christians deny that Leftwing Christians are legitimately Christian, they reject not just the truth as liberals and Leftists know it, but also the very Christianity of those who hold those views.

So, the duty, obligation and necessity is not for leftist Christians to tell ME how they’re different, but to tell the rightwing and—even more importantly—to demand that the right stop claiming that it alone represents “true” Christianity. The rightwing will never do that, of course, so the left must then take the battle to the media, and make sure they understand that there are many views within Christianity, and the rightwing view is only one view, a narrow view not share by all Christians.

If liberal and Leftist Christians fail to do this, then they must accept that they will be tarred with the same brush as their intolerant and bigoted fellow Christians on the right. They must also then accept that they deserve to be.

Controlling guns

I’ve always been a strong supporter of gun control. Always. I don’t need yet another gun massacre, or more innocent lives lost, to make me oppose easy access to guns because I always have.

The fact is, the more guns there are, the more gun violence there is. That’s a knowable, verifiable thing, not some political opinion. A gun in a home greatly increases the likelihood of murder, suicide and assault with a gun. Those, too, are facts. The countries with the lowest rates of gun death are also those with the fewest guns per capita, and the most violent nations on earth are those with the most guns—more pesky facts.

The US rightwing, led by the preeminent gun nut group, the NRA, doesn’t like those facts because they alone make a strong case for limiting access to guns. Instead, rightwingers resort to banal, downright stupid sloganeering, like their favourite one: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” Um, no, if guns are outlawed, outlaws will have knives (and when was the last time there was a “mass knifing” in the news?).

America’s gun nuts love the Second Amendment to the US Constitution—but only the end part. They have no frigging idea what the entire Amendment means, taken as a whole, but considering that it was written at a time when the top gun was a single-shot flintlock rifle, it’s absolutely certain that the framers never intended for, say, automatic weapons to be in the hands of ordinary people. For that matter, they never intended guns to be in everyone’s hands (that pesky bit about “a well-regulated militia” is the important part). Still, not even most of the justices on the US Supreme Court understand that.

I’m under no illusion that the US will ever end gun violence. The gun nuts are too powerful, too rich and can buy too many politicians. There will never be any real gun reform in the US, though there may be some tinkering around the edges. US politicians could re-ban assault weapons, they could require mandatory licensing and safety instruction for anyone wanting to own a gun, as well as mandatory background checks and waiting periods for anyone wanting to buy a gun—no exceptions, no loopholes. None of that will happen.

Still, not even the modest, minor reforms outlined above would prevent the next mass shooting because there are still too many guns in the hands of too many people. Countless free and democratic countries around the world—including New Zealand—have proven it doesn’t have to be that way. American politics have proven that for the USA, it does have to be that way. And that, ultimately, is the biggest tragedy of all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Zeitgeist 2012: Year In Review


Say what you want, Google makes some good videos. Not a surprise, really, nor that they should so ably capture the Zeitgeist of 2012—at least as represented by what we searched for. I think this video is very well done.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

121212

Today is 12/12/12, the last time a date will be arranged like that for much longer than most of the people I know will be alive. Including me. It's also a date that the US and the rest of the world write the same way. All of that is interesting to me.

Mostly, though, I just like number patterns and wanted to acknowledge this one, even though I don't have time for blogging at the moment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ruined my Christmas


This is an anti-Christmas song, directed by Boy George and Dean Stockings and featuring Supreme Fabulettes. “You ruined my Christmas, you made it a drag…” um, literally.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Personal history

Today marriage equality officially began in the US state of Washington. That’s something to be celebrated, and many are celebrating that fact. But I want to celebrate, especially, the personal: Today, one of my dearest friends in the world was able to legally marry his husband.

One day, we will—in all 50 US States, New Zealand, Australia—look back and wonder why this was ever an issue. One day, as the opposition fades away, we will wonder how anyone could ever have stood in the way of love. One day, we will wonder why anyone could ever have had hearts made of the coldest stone.

But for now, for today, I just want to celebrate my friend, and how very happy I am for him. It is historic, yes, but it is also intensely personal, as loving same-gender couples in Washington are able to legally commit in marriage the same way their heterosexual friends and family members can. But, again, this isn’t just history, it’s personal—and it’s love.

My friend and his partner appear in this local news report, but out of respect for his privacy, I won’t say more than that. Well, no more than that and I’m so very happy for him!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Marriage equality matters


Above is a new video from New Zealand’s Campaign for Marriage Equality. It features “celebrities, media personalities, respected community leaders, sports people and everyday New Zealanders who all support marriage equality, and the campaign to [extend] equal marriage to all” (a list of people in the video is in the video description on YouTube). I like it.

The video focuses on the main issue, that a person ought to have the right to commit in marriage to the person he or she loves, and also that that right ought to be available to all people equally—gay and straight alike. It’s such a simple issue, and the video is simple and straightforward. That's what makes it effective, in my opinion.

Enacting marriage equality really should be a no-brainer, and, increasingly, it is: The tide of history and justice are on our side: Marriage equality is inevitable. It would be nice, though, if that progress was a little faster.

Like the video says, this issue is about love. What rational person could be against that?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Busy, not gone

I apologise for the lack of posts, but apart from the quick Tweet or Facebook post, I just haven’t had time for online activity. The end of year is fast approaching and I have two work projects to finish by next week. It’s keeping me busy, of course, which is fine—but it’s also keeping me from blogging, which, for me, is not (apart from that whole paying bills is necessary thing, of course).

Still, I’m sure that my temporary absence isn’t leaving anyone without something to read, but it’s a good time to check out some of my favourite blogs in the sidebar (“Blogs I read regularly (listed by most recently updated)”, to call it by its proper name), or check out my Links Page for even more that I read.

Or, you can see why my Blogging Buddy™, Roger Green, posted “The ‘no time to blog’ post”. Simpatico, I tells ya. Then, too, my oldest friend Jason (not in years, but—oh, never mind) posts lost of different things, a bit like me.

Be back soon with my normal snark, commentary on the politics of two countries, and, oh, so much more. Maybe even cake.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

World AIDS Day 2012

Each year I do a blog post for World AIDS Day. I feel it’s my duty to remember all those we’ve lost, because AIDS isn’t over yet.

According the United Nations, in 2011:

• An estimated 34 million people around the world were living with HIV.

• 2.5 million people became newly infected with HIV.

• 1.7 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

The USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “at the end of 2009, an estimated 1,148,200 persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including 207,600 (18.1%) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed.”

Here in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health says that  3689 people have become infected with HIV since 1985. 81 of those infections happened this year (as of June this year).

I’ll keep posting something for World AIDS Day as long as I have a blog, and as long as this disease continues.

Because it’s not over yet.

Previous years’ blog posts:

World AIDS Day 2011
World AIDS Day 2010
World AIDS Day 2009
World AIDS Day 2008
World AIDS Day 2007
World AIDS Day 2006


A red ribbon is hung from the North Portico of the White House, Nov. 30, 2012, to mark World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Lincoln connection


This video from the AP talks about an unusual aspect of the movie “Lincoln”. Not that we’d know: Last time I checked, the movie isn’t due for release in New Zealand until January of next year—because Hollywood would really rather that people see the odds-on favourite for an Oscar nomination by illegally downloading the movie. And, many will—because Hollywood is clearly, by definition, stupid.

Honestly, how can Hollywood expect us to take them seriously when they whinge and moan about supposed “lost” sales when they can’t even be bothered to let us see movies when everyone else does? Will they lose money to piracy? Meh. Why should I care?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Immigration fairness

US Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez
The vast majority of Americans know the USA’s immigration system needs massive reform. As it is now, it serves no one well—not the country, its citizens, its taxpayers, its businesses or the immigrants themselves. Finally, we have a real possibility of change.

The recent US elections changed a lot of things, including this possibility for reform. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote in a landslide, mostly because of that party’s constant pandering to the most nativist, xenophobic and—let’s be honest here—racist base of their party. After their crushing defeat, Republicans in Congress (and even some in their media) started claiming to have seen the light on immigration reform.

Was it just a cynical political ploy, designed to try and convince Hispanic voters that Republicans aren’t really that bad? The post-election actions of Republicans at the state level suggest their party is as anti-immigrant as ever. However, let’s take the Congressional Republicans at their word.

US Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Illinois-4) is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus which today released its principles for immigration reform. In his remarks, he said:
When my colleagues and I demanded fairness for immigrants we used to be kind of like the unwanted party crasher—the one who makes all of the other guests uncomfortable. We stood alone, in the corner.

All of a sudden we’re the belle of the ball.

Well, it’s time to dance.
The goal of their “ONE NATION: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream” (downloadable from the link above) is aptly described in the document itself: “Our immigration laws ought to reflect both our interests and our values as Americans and we believe these principles are consistent with our nation’s commitment to fairness and equality.” I agree.

Principle 2 of the document especially caught my eye. They back comprehensive immigration reform that:
Protects the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together [emphasis added]
There’s little that’s new in these principles, and the Democratic Party has long championed them (and many Republicans used to). The inclusion of LGBT families is also not new, and it’s certainly not a surprise. It’s unlikely to be dropped to get Republican support because, quite frankly, that same election’s results that put this issue back on the table also demonstrated the importance of the LGBT vote. Besides, Rep. Gutierrez has long been a strong advocate of fairness for LGBT people, as have others in the Hispanic Caucus.

Nevertheless, this will be an uphill fight: There’s still Republican intransigence on this issue, after all. But if those Congressional Republicans were serious, and not just playing politics, Congress actually might make some progress—finally.

Rep. Gutierrez described the principles as being about “common sense, common decency”. I think they are. I hope the Republicans have discovered a bit of both.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The right to offend


If there’s one issue that people from all over the political spectrum should be able to agree on, it’s protecting freedom of speech, right? Trouble is, while everyone depends on that freedom, we don’t really want our opponents to have it.

The Right rails on about “political correctness” while practicing their own version of repression. The Left tries to cut off debate on whatever it disapproves of. Those of us somewhere between the extremes are left wondering, well, what can we talk about?

The video above, from RT, talks about the United Kingdom’s increasing crackdown on freedom of expression, particularly criticism of religion of any kind. Contrary to popular belief, this is something that affects the left and the right alike.

All Western democracies protect fundamental human and civil rights, to varying degrees, and that includes freedom of expression. In many countries, hate speech is criminalised, meaning people could theoretically go to jail for it. The problem is that one person’s hate is another’s sincerely held belief.

The rightwing is especially loud in complaining about what it perceives as restrictions on its free expression. They point to places, like Britain, where they can’t say blatant untruths about gay people, Muslims, etc., and get away with it. But what about this video:



Pat Robertson attacked atheists and flat out lied about them—he defamed them, spread untruths with an eye toward bringing them into general disrepute. Does he have that right? If all hate speech is banned, shouldn’t this be, too?

I’m old school. I think that the best antidote to hate speech isn’t repression, it’s more speech: Condemnation, ridicule, mocking, refutation, undermining—any speech is fine in response, but repression isn’t.

Still, not everything is okay. I make the same exception that the US Supreme Court does: Speech that presents a clear and present danger isn’t protected. Determining what isn’t protected is the job of our elected representatives who can be turfed out if they go too far, as they often do. However, I do have a rule my mother taught me: You have the right to swing your fist as hard and as wildly as you want, but your rights end when your fist meets my nose. So, you can say whatever you want, but if your speech threatens my life or safety directly, it’s not permitted.

Of course, it’s not easy when dogma must be upheld. Consider a recent story from India: A sceptic discovered that a statue of Jesus in a Catholic church that was supposedly “weeping” was actually just standing in front of a leaking drainpipe, and he publicly disclosed that fact. As a reward for his honesty, he’s had to flee because of death threats and is facing prosecution for “blasphemy”, one of India’s many laws left over from colonial days.

Last Friday, a judge threw out an Illinois law that made it a crime to film/video the police. Under that law, a person videoing, say, their own arrest could be charged with a Class 1 felony and face 15 years in prison—all for holding public employees accountable to their ultimate employers, the people.

What all of these things have in common is that someone—unusually someone in power, or just the majority—wants everyone else to shut up. But no one has the right to NOT be offended and, in fact, freedom of expression means at some point we’ll ALL be offended. So, no one—no church, no government, no police force, no one—should stand in the way of free people freely expressing their opinions on the issues of the day. I firmly believe that if we lose the freedom to express our opinions on those issues, we have no freedom left.

Not only does the right to freedom of expression NOT mean the right to be free from being offended, in fact, in fact it means having the right to offend—or it means nothing at all. If the Left or the Right doesn’t like what we say, well, too bloody bad. It’s our right.