Thursday, May 31, 2012

T is for time

Time: Like money, we want more of it, inevitably waste some of it and we can lose all of it. Unlike money, we can never make any more. A friend of mine, an incredibly bright economist, once said to me that “time is the most valuable commodity of all: If you lose all your money, you can make more; you can replace your things; most of the time your health can be restored if you get sick or are injured. But if you run out of time, that’s it.”

This seems so obvious, but how many of actually, truly realise how time is more valuable that money? The 2011 movie In Time (movie trailer) is about a future world in which the genes that control ageing have been switched off and time has replaced money; the rich can live forever and the poor struggle to live another day. In that world, time really is money.

Here in our world, we all act as if time is limitless, even though we know how silly that is. We’ve all heard the expression, “no one ever says on their deathbed, ‘gee, I wish I’d spent more time at work…’” The expression is meant to make us appreciate the time we have, to worry and obsesses less about the things that don’t make us happier or that make us unhappy. We seldom heed the advice.

Time also has what I think is one of the most poetic definitions in my dictionary: “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” It stretches from our most distant ancestors to those who will follow after us into the future. We’re all part of that same “indefinite continued progress of existence and events”.

Some people believe that there’s an existence after physical death. Others believe there’s nothing. We know through science that we are all, as the late astronomer Carl Sagan so memorably put it, “made of star stuff”, that is, everything in the universe is made of matter that’s recycled endlessly. Existence, in that sense, at least, really is timeless.

May we all enjoy whatever time we have!

The image at the top of this post is a royalty-free photo by Dean Jenkins, and is available from morgueFile, which, despite the creepy, out-of-time name, is a great source for digital stock photos. The name is an old newspaper term for folders of old clippings and photos that might be useful one day; nowadays it’s used in newsrooms to describe files of old issues of the paper. The term is also used by folks in all sorts of visual creative professions for files of images that are kept for reference—and that’s part of the mission of the morgueFile site.

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The Auckland Plan

This video from Auckland Council explains in very basic terms what the Auckland Plan is all about. The Auckland Plan, now adopted, is the first time that all of Auckland has ever had a unified vision and a plan for how to get there. I posted earlier videos about this in October of last year.

Auckland’s rightwing politicians are dismissive of all the aspirations in the plan. The say, for example, that we cannot possibly afford the City Rail Link in particular. Their predecessors said the same thing about rapid transport decades ago, and got their way—and we’re still suffering from that colossally stupid and myopic view. We mustn’t make that mistake again. The debate shouldn’t be about whether we build the rail loop, but how we pay for it.

The rightwing is especially dismissive of the goal of making Auckland the world’s most liveable city. I say, why not? It’s a tall order and an unimaginably big challenge. So? Why shouldn’t Auckland reach for that goal? If we don’t try, it’s guaranteed we won’t reach it—but what if we do succeed? Even if we only partly succeed, things will be better for us all, so why not try?

The bottom line is that, despite what our conservative friends think, not everything comes down to money. However, even on those issues for which money matters a lot, there are ways to make aspirations reality. The key is, we have to try.

The Auckland Plan is now adopted. Now we need to move on and make it happen.

National’s own goal

Every government makes mistakes, but this National-led government has made more than most. In their first term, they announced plans to mine sensitive conservation land—only to have to make an embarrassing backdown. We now know that was just an indicator of things to come.

Earlier this month, the government announced that it was going to cut government spending by increasing class sizes in public schools by four students per teacher. The idea for this came from Treasury—TREASURY! That alone should have told National what a colossally stupid this idea was. As I said on a Facebook friend’s posting about it:
Taking advice on what's best for education from Treasury—well, they ARE the experts on education, right? I'm thinking that they all probably had a teacher at some point in their lives, and for this government, that's all that's required to be an expert in the field—just ask Anne Tolley or Hekia Parata.

All sarcasm aside, this has got to be among the dumbest proposals yet from a government renowned for its stupidity. The increased class sizes start before kids have even learned to read. They also ignore the fact that classrooms are likely to include perhaps several children with special needs. The sooner we can change the government, the better!
I stand by every word of that. And, I’ve been vindicated: The government has already announced a partial backdown, declaring that schools will “only” lose one or two teachers. This whole mess is, as John Armstrong put it in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald, “just plain dumb politically.” Is it ever!

Or, maybe not.

The New Zealand Herald also reported yesterday that roughly half of all the cabinet ministers send, or have sent, their own children to private schools—schools which tout on their websites about how important small class sizes are to learning. Do as they say, not as they do?

What I find every bit as appalling is that a further two cabinet ministers flat out refused to say if their children attend state schools or private schools. These people make decisions that affect ALL New Zealanders, so we have an absolute we have a right to know if they’re affected or not, and whether they like it or not.

Here’s what they’re afraid of: Only 4% of New Zealand children attend private schools, and only 20% of kids from rich families. So, half of the cabinet ministers are elite among elites. In addition, a quarter of cabinet ministers also attended private schools. As Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn so aptly observed:
Which neatly explains why they are happy to wreck the state education system: because it’s not their kids who will suffer. It also explains why they are so keen to give public money to private schools: because this directly advantages their kids, and lowers the fees they have to pay. So we end up with one education system for politicians, and another for us.
Do as they say, not as they do.

Our message to politicians is simple: Do as WE say or you will not be able to do anything in politics again. I wonder if they will—or even can—learn that lesson.

Toward marriage equality in Illinois

Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois filed suit against the Clerk of Cook County, where Chicago is located, arguing that the refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Illinois Constitution. The suit is on behalf of 25 couples from around the state. The video above profiles some of them.

A bill to enact marriage equality stalled in the Illinois House of Representatives, though it’s almost certain to pass—eventually. However, how much harm will be done to same-sex couples and their families in the years before that happens? The lawsuit could speed up the process, one way or another. Still, all supporters of equality—including me—would prefer that the legislature act.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn supports marriage equality, as does Illinois citizen Barack Obama. The office of Cook County Clerk David Orr, who is the defendant in the suit, issued a statement: "The time is long past due for the state of Illinois to allow county clerks to issue marriage license to couples who want to make their commitment. I hope these lawsuits are the last hurdle to achieving equal marriage rights for all." Me, too.

Predictably, the anti-gay industry and anti-gay religious extremists have chimed in with their usual noise. Read any similar story to this one for their boring, cookie-cutter, boilerplate responses.

Marriage equality will inevitably come to my native state—the sooner the better.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wait, what?

For ordinary people, it would have been an “OOPS!” moment, but the USA’s religious radicals and leaders of the anti-gay industry aren’t ordinary people. Clearly.

At a recent gathering organised by the SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, the “Family” “Research” Council, speaker after speaker belched all sorts of inane nonsense, and among those was a “young earth” anti-evolutionist, Australian-born Ken Ham, who was preaching against marriage equality (video above). And therein lay his doom.

He said claimed that Jesus preached that “the doctrine of marriage is built upon the history in Genesis.” Then he goes in for what he considers a rhetorical coup de grâce:
“You have generations of pastors and Christian leaders in this nation and Christian academics telling our congressmen and our president that Genesis is not literal history, then marriage can be whatever you want to make it to be. And that’s what’s happening.”
Ah, Genesis, the very model of modern marriage! It’s what we should emulate and hold to be sacrosanct, right? Well…

Writing on Right Wing Watch, Kyle Mantyla takes a look at what’s actually in Genesis: “Outside of Adam and Eve, and Noah and his wife, just about every major patriarch engaged in either polygamy or some form of incest, and often both.”

He goes on to provide some highlights:
According to Genesis 16, Abraham slept with and married his wife Sarah's slave because Sarah was unable to bear children. On top of that, according to Genesis 20, Sarah was also Abraham's half-sister and he later took at least one more wife.

Abraham's son Issac was married to Rebekah, who, according to Genesis 24, was the daughter of the son of Abraham’s brother, which would make Rebekah the daughter of Issac's cousin, or Issac's first cousin, once removed.

Rebekah then gave birth to Esau and Jacob. According to Genesis 26, Esau married two Hittite women and then later took a third wife while Jacob married the daughters of his mother's brother, his first cousins, named Leah and Rachel. Rachel was unable to bear children and so gave Jacob her servant to sleep with and take as a wife, to which Leah responded by likewise giving Jacob her servant for a wife.
Go, traditional marriage!!

Mantyla also cites the aftermath of the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah—the story above all others that radical right religionists love to try and use to attack gay people. Aside from the fact that they get the story completely wrong every time because they misrepresent what the “sin” of the cities was supposed to have been, they always omit the rest of the story: The Hebrew god kills everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, ultimately saving only Lot and his two daughters. Later, the daughters got their father drunk and had sex with him so they would become pregnant—and they did. Yeah, that’s a story the fundies always forget to tell. Funny, that.

The point of all this is that the Religious Right keeps going on and on and on about “Biblical Marriage” as the only “real” marriage. They say everything but “one man, one woman” is “counterfeit” because it’s not based on “god’s law” as set out in their bible, and that marriage equality will inevitably lead to incest and polygamy. The trouble for them is that incest and polygamy WERE marriage for most of the folks in Genesis—which is what “the doctrine of marriage is built upon”?


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Finding the words

I originally planned on this post for Sunday. I started it—twice—but abandoned it; I just couldn’t find the words.

That’s not unusual for me, of course: I always have posts that never emerge from the draft stage. So far, the number of these ill-fated drafts over the year-to-date is running about the same as last year, but that’s up 65% on 2010. Not that it matters.

We all get tongue-tied sometimes, or decide against saying what we’re thinking. It’s no different for me and this blog. In fact, they’re the main reasons that my drafts don’t become posts. Well, some don’t, others do.

And thinking about that today led to a realisation. It’s not that I have trouble finding words, or trouble finding the right ones that say what I mean. No, the main reason for posting less, and leaving so many posts unfinished, is much simpler: Lack of time.

Time is the great enabler AND killer of creativity. It stifles creativity when we either don’t have enough time to do the job right, or when we have too much time so that it prevents focus. For me, it’s usually the first.

And this is why I don’t worry any more about missing days. Out of 22 Sundays so far in 2012, I’ve only posted on 10 of them. Not that this matters, either.

The point is, this blog is here for me whenever I want it. I have my podcast, though the lack of time has affected that, too, this year. I have my other podcast (ditto). I even have a YouTube Channel, though I haven’t posted anything to it in nearly 2½ years. So, when I have the time and something to say, I have a medium.

I think more people should take advantage of the many opportunities for self-expression, using whatever medium works best for them. The expression is, in my opinion, justification for itself.

Sometimes, though, we all find we get stuck, or, maybe, just slowed down. It usually passes, eventually. It does for me. Sooner or later I always find the words again—and realise that they were never lost in the first place.

Photo is my own.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Respect requires honesty

It’s no secret that I have zero respect for Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for US President. This is partly because he’s never met a position on an issue he doesn’t like, so it’s impossible to know what he really thinks about anything. But the main reason that I don’t respect him is that he lies—a lot.

Plenty of others have been making quite a career out of debunking Romney’s distortions and falsehoods, but among them is one that I kind of think is hilarious: His claiming that President Obama’s been on a reckless spending spree.

The truth, as is so often the case, is not on Romney’s side.

The chart with this post comes from a column on The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch. It shows that the growth in Federal spending under President Obama is far less than his four predecessors as president. Another chart on the site shows how federal spending has flattened under Obama, growing at an annualised rate of just 0.4%. That’s hardly a “spending spree”—in fact, practically the opposite.

Romney and the Republicans get it so wrong because they attribute the money from Bush’s last budget to Obama, who took office while that budget was still in place. Never mind Bush’s last budget was passed by a previous Congress and beyond the control of Obama, they still add it to his total because it had to do with the stimulus. Or something (Republican logic, so-called, is often difficult to follow).

But fair’s fair: If Republicans want to add Bush’s spending onto Obama’s totals, then they surely must want to add Bush’s “off the books” spending two wars and Medicare Part D to his totals, right? After all, they weren’t included in his budgets. Oh, that’s right, they need to try to make Obama look bad, so they can’t be honest about the Bush record.

The reason I think this is so funny is that the falsehoods of Romney and the Republicans are demonstrably, provably wrong—totally. Why bother lying about something that can be checked so easily?

The fact that Romney changes positions faster than a chameleon can change colour, combined with his continual insistence on stating obvious falsehoods adds up to a lack of respect for Romney and his party. Respect requires honesty—Romney and the Republicans should try it sometime.

Friday, May 25, 2012

President Obama and the Fight for LGBT Rights

As a proud liberal, there are many reasons why I support the re-election of President Obama, but this video shows why I—in particular—support President Obama. There has never been a “perfect” president on GLBT issues, but President Obama has been better than all the previous presidents—and I’ve seen a few.

So, my choices are President Obama, or the Republican who wants to forever outlaw marriage equality in ALL US states, including those where it’s legal right now. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the presumptive Republican nominee also wants to outlaw even civil unions—he’s just typical extremist Republican, really.

No, President Obama is the only candidate I could possibly even consider voting for. While I never say “never”, it’s clear that Republicans have a LOT of growing up to do before I could ever consider one of them. Put another way, I don’t expect to live long enough to consider a Republican candidate: I defy them to prove me wrong on that (P.S. they can’t).

Watch the video, then prove to me the Republican would be better on these issues. Go ahead, I double-dog dare you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

S if for Sssssss

There are two kinds of creatures I loathe: Spiders and snakes. That may be based largely on irrational fear, but not entirely: The area of the USA where I grew up had a potentially lethal venomous spider (plus another that could be) and two species of potentially deadly snakes, along with many species of both that scientists call “harmless” (because they’re not frightened of them).

So, given my wariness, it might seem strange that I’d even consider watching movies with either as the main, um, creature, but I also used to love horror movies and, well, such movies came with the territory. For most such movies, it would be a huge compliment to call them “B Grade”, because they’re usually more laughable than scary. Sometimes, they’re a bit more, too, and the 1973 movie Sssssss is one such.

Let’s me be clear: Sssssss is an incredibly bad movie, but there were some redeeming features. The plotline, which I’ve adapted from the movies’ IMDB listing, is this:
David Blake (Dirk Benedict), a college student, is looking for a job. He is hired by Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) as a lab assistant for his research and experiments on snakes. David also begins to fall for Stoner's young daughter, Kristina (Heather Menzies). However, the good doctor has secretly brewed up a serum that can transform any man into a King Cobra snake—and he plans to use it on David.
If you said it sounds stupid, well, as we say in New Zealand, “you’re not wrong, mate.” However, the performances are actually pretty solid, even considering it’s a 1970s horror flick, and the make-up effects as David is transformed into a snake were pretty advanced for the time, way before CGI effects were possible.

On the other hand, the cobras used were real (apart from one scene), as was a python. At the time I saw it (when it was new), I preferred to believe they weren’t.

The movie was too silly to have any effect on my fear of snakes (in fact, I seem to remember 14-year-old me referring to the movie as “Ssssssshit”); the plot was just too stupid to be believable. I laughed at the much more recent Anaconda for similar reasons (for starters, nothing that big could move that fast).

All of which goes to show that it’s possible to watch a movie and suspend disbelief even about things that may terrify us in real life. I suppose the unintentional comedy value of movies like Sssssss help that.

And as for spiders and snakes in real life, well, I now live in a country with no snakes and only one species of potentially lethal spider, the Katipo, but one that hardly anyone’s actually seen one, let alone been killed.

They still scare me, though; Sssssss didn’t.

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Economic realities

The chart above (click to embiggen) is from the Greens and shows the real-world effects of the current National Party-led Government's rightwing economic agenda, which is hurting ordinary, mainstream New Zealanders. Taken with the Labour Party video I posted yesterday, we get a clear picture of National's incompetent management of the New Zealand economy.

Clearly, we need to change the Government, but first we need to change the conversation. The Labour and Green parties are giving us the tools to do that. Kudos to them BOTH!

A PDF version of the chart is also available from the Greens' website.

WTF New Zealand

This is the launch video (language NSFW) for WTF New Zealand, a campaign “for everybody who cares about equality”. It’s partly a call for action, partly a call for support to two vital organisations, Rainbow Youth and OUTline.

To me, the video is kind of like a combination of videos from Cyndi Lauper’s “Give A Damn” and the hugely more in-your-face videos from “FCKH8”. That’s not surprising because jump-cuts and having different people deliver parts of the same sentence have been used by a lot of groups for a simple reason: They work—and so does the unapologetic use of “naughty” words.

The point of the WTF campaign is (http://wtf.org.nz/about) “about standing up, not taking no for an answer and demanding change”:
Nothing like this has ever been attempted in New Zealand, nor has any one campaign rallied as many of our country’s top faces under its banner and the support from so many well-known kiwis has encouraged us to speak up even louder for those being discriminated against. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, so it’s time we ask New Zealand "WTF?”
I applaud this effort and hope it succeeds, because it’s been needed. With the National Party in power, GLBTI New Zealanders need a campaign fighting for them. When the Labour and Green parties form the new government, they’ll need to have their feet held to the fire, so this sort of campaign will still be needed. I’m glad to see it get started.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Four Years Of Failed Promises

This new video from the New Zealand Labour Party points out the discrepancy between the promises of the National Party-led government and reality. It’s only part of the story, but it’s a start.

NZ political bits

Like everyone else, I see things on the Internet that I think are interesting, but that I don’t necessarily want to comment on myself. At such times, a post like this, with things to share, is the perfect answer.

Fiscal responsibility

On his blog Just Left, Labourite Jordon Carter talks about the realities of fiscal management by the current National Party-led government—well, mismanagement, actually, because the numbers tell a very different tale from the ideological spin coming from John Key and his ministers.

Sallies say ‘sorry’ – again

GayNZ.com reports that the Salvation Army in New Zealand has again apologised for its role in fighting against Homosexual Law Reform in 1986: “We regret and apologise for any hurt that may remain from that turbulent time, and our present hope is to rebuild bridges of understanding and dialogue between our movement and the glbti community. We may not agree in the future on all issues, but we can respect and care for one another despite this.” This came after dialogue with Rainbow Wellington. However, one veteran activist active in that era is unimpressed.

He’s baaaaaaack!

The peace and quiet lasted a little longer than I expected, but Winston Peter’s anti-Asian rants have resumed. Trying to demonstrate how some people aren’t the sorts of immigrants we want, he suggested there were too many Asian takeaways on Auckland’s Dominion Road. 3 News’ Patrick Gower reports that John Key says he doesn’t take Winston seriously, “Yet given the implosion of John Banks and the ACT Party, Mr Key is being forced to take Mr Peters much more seriously as a future partner in Government - despite ruling him out the past two elections.” Politics, eh?

That Guy’s wrong

It’s always dodgy to call someone a liar, even when it’s sometimes hard to draw any other conclusion. Nathan Guy, the Minister of Immigration, misled the New Zealand public by using obviously wrong information. But is he a liar?

On May 10, Guy announced that in five days he was eliminating the “Sibling and Adult Child Category” for immigration, stating that the change:
“…will reduce the number of unskilled migrants who find it more difficult to get jobs and are more likely to end up on a benefit. Research has shown that only 66% of people who gain residence as siblings and adult children had a job after 18 months, despite a job offer being required for residence."
Um no, no it doesn’t. Guy is flat out wrong and obviously deliberately misleading the New Zealand public, and this wasn’t the first time he tried this. On March 6, Guy appeared on TVNZ’s Breakfast morning infotainment programme and said of migrants to New Zealand:
“…. those [immigrants] that have been coming in previously have been very reliant on benefits. Even though they have had to have a job offer, in a lot of cases we have found that after a study we have done on the first 18 months that a third of them have ended up requiring a benefit.”
That sounded awfully suspect to Tammy Bell, owner of Move2NZ (The link has a complete transcript of the interview), a site that specialises in helping migrants to New Zealand. So, she filed an Official Information Act request to find out what Guy was on about.

Guy responded, “only 66% of migrants who obtained residence through the Sibling and Adult Child Category reported having a job when surveyed 18 months after taking up permanent residence in New Zealand.”

That means that Guy was being deceptive in the interview because only 2.5% of all approved residence applications were in that category, not all migrants as Guy implied in the interview. There’s another, bigger problem with Guy’s statements: He implies that ALL of those unemployed migrants in that tiny category are on a benefit, which is simply not true: This small group of migrants is simply not in paid full-time work, which is absolutely not the same thing as being on a benefit.

According to Tammy Bell, official statistics show that the 66% of that tiny percentage of migrants weren’t in full-time work at 18 months because 14% were retired, 33% were caring for dependents, and 29% were studying. That’s obviously different than being on a benefit.

Also, such migrants couldn’t claim a benefit for two years—at 18 months, the time of the statistics Guy selected to use, they wouldn’t even be eligible for a benefit. Instead, they would be reliant on their sponsoring family members for support, who are legally liable to reimburse the government for any costs to the taxpayer associated with these migrants.

So, what’s Guy playing at? Why is he deliberately deceiving the New Zealand public? There are two reasons.


I haven’t commented on the case surrounding the harassment and suicide of Tyler Clementi (pictured). That case is complicated and raised many different and conflicting issues. But one thing remains crystal clear: Tyler Clementi was the only victim in this.

The facts of the case are pretty well established, but not everything is clear. Was Clementi’s Rutgers University roommate Dharun Ravi anti-gay? The judge who sentenced Ravi for the harassment said he didn’t think Ravi hated Clementi because Ravi “had no reason to”. But that’s exactly the point of anti-gay hatred: It is always without reason, and the evidence—Ravi’s Twitter postings and that he set up a private dressing area, for example—suggests at least a mild anti-gay prejudice, and it seems probable, based on what’s been reported, that this did serve as a motivator for Ravi’s behaviour.

Ravi’s crime was a gross and inexcusable invasion of Clementi’s privacy. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, whether Ravi was motivated by hate or prejudice, or even simple arrogance or attention seeking: What matters is that what he did was indisputably wrong, indisputably criminal and he deserves to be punished.

To bad Ravi isn’t being punished, not really: Ravi was sentenced to a mere 30 days in jail, 3 years probation, 300 hours of community service, a $10,000 fine and counselling. Of all that, only the counselling stands any chance of making a difference.

No one wanted Ravi to receive the maximum possible sentence of ten years in prison, but 30 days?! That hardly seems like a punishment fitting the crime. Would such a light sentence have been handed down if the roles had been reversed? I'm not sure.

At the sentencing, Ravi’s mother said,“Dharun’s dreams are shattered and he has been living in hell for the past 20 months.” Yeah, well, Tyler doesn’t get to have any dreams any more, because he’s dead and Ravi’s actions helped drive him to take his own life. I can’t work up any sympathy for Ravi: He created the “hell” he’s been living in and only he can make it better. Tyler will never get that chance.

Sometimes I think that in 2010 Ravi was really nothing more than a typical boy of that age: Self-centred, arrogant, unconcerned about the consequences of his actions—possibly even incapable of believing there could ever be any consequences. This is precisely why I didn’t favour the maximum sentence. And yet, he deserves to be punished and Tyler Clementi deserves justice. Also, gay teens and youth must be valued as much as their heterosexual peers, and crimes against them taken as seriously. I don’t believe that in this case any of those three happened.

Nobody “won” in this case, but one thing remains clear: Tyler Clementi was the victim.

The photo accompanying this post is Tyler Clementi’s Facebook profile photo, which I found on Wikipedia. I wouldn’t normally post a photo of uncertain copyright status, but I think it’s important to remember who the victim in this case was.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Robin Gibb

If I had complicated feelings about Donna Summer, my feelings about the BeeGees were split—literally. The death today of Robin Gibb has reminded me of that.

The video above is of “I Started a Joke” (1968) which reached number one in New Zealand and Number three in the US. Next up is “Massachusetts” (1967), which also reached number one in New Zealand and number 11 in the US. As near as I can tell, both videos were recorded around the time they were new. I chose them because they’re among my favourites of their songs from the 1960s.

I wasn’t keen on their songs of the 1970s (although, 1971’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was sampled on a comedy 45 I bought called “Convention 72”). This does indeed mean that I wasn’t fond of their songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack; in fact, when it first came out, I pretty much hated the songs, especially Barry’s falsetto on “Stayin’ Alive”. I eventually got used to the songs, and so, eventually didn’t hate them.

The same can’t be said for their versions of songs in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, which I loathed (I was a Beatles purist). However, that wasn’t the end for me, because I liked 1987’s “You Win Again” (below), even though it only reached #18 in New Zealand and #75 in the US.

I also liked what turned out to be their last charted single, “This Is Where I Came In” (2001; #37 NZ, not charted in the US). That I liked their later songs that didn’t do well on the charts probably itself says something about me.

It’s almost as if the BeeGees were two different bands and, in some ways, they were: Robin was the main lead singer in the 1960s, Barry took over in the 1970s. I always thought Robin’s voice was unusual, but I thought Barry’s falsetto was weird. Their harmonies, however, were interesting. That duality is probably why my own appreciation for their songs is so patchy.

The Gibb family has had more than its share of tragedy and untimely death, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to hear what the mature Brothers Gibb might have come up with. However, there’s plenty of their stuff I liked, including songs they wrote that others made famous. That’s enough, really.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Donna Summer: Not such a bad girl

Pop music is meant to be pretty easy and relatively unchallenging, which is why it’s easy for so many people to like it. I liked Donna Summer’s music, as many people did, but she was one pop artist about whom I’ve always had complicated feelings, and all of that has been brought back by her death.

The first Donna Summer album I bought was Live and More (1978), followed by Bad Girls (1979). The problem I had with her, and disco music generally, was the association it had among my age peers with gay people. As a deeply closeted gay teen, the last thing I wanted was to be publicly identified as gay. So, I kept my like for disco largely secret.

At the time, there was a—to me—malevolent spirit on the loose. In 1978, Chicago radio disc jockey Steve Dahl was fired from a radio station when it changed formats to disco. In his new gig at WLUP (“the Loop”), he began an anti-disco crusade, which featured a fake group, "The Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army", and the promotion of the slogan, “disco sucks”.

This slogan began popping up on black Loop FM T-shirts, worn by teenage boys with long, greasy hair and carrying a faint whiff of marijuana. It was impossible to go to any shopping mall in the Chicago area—as we teenagers did a lot of at the time—without seeing guys wearing those t-shirts.

There was a strong, testosterone-driven pseudo-macho aggressiveness to this whole campaign, and that resulted in one of the most disastrous publicity stunts ever: 1979’s Disco Demolition Night, at which Steve Dahl went to Chicago’s Comiskey Park and blew up a crate of disco records between games in a double header. It set off a riot that forced the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game that night. The stunt was likened to a Nazi book burning—which is what popped into my head at the time—with the overtones of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Disco had its roots, of course, in black and gay nightclubs. It went “mainstream” with the release of the film Saturday Night Fever in 1977, but by then it was already beginning to wane in black and gay clubs. By 1980, it would be all but over and, despite some claims, the Disco Demolition stunt did not kill it off: As so often happens with pop music, tastes simply changed.

Donna Summer returned to her more rock-focused roots, more or less, with disco influences still evident in many of her transitional releases. In the early 1980s, Summer became a “born-again Christian”, and this is where the next complication came in: She is alleged to have said that AIDS was “god’s punishment” for gay people. She denied ever having said that, but even in those pre-Internet days, the story spread and persisted.

I first heard the story when I read an article in Gay Chicago Magazine in 1983 or possibly early 1984. The article quoted a Chicago gay man who said he’d attended a Donna Summer concert in Indiana. Fans were invited to stay afterward, because at the time, Summer often held talks after her shows to tell fans about her religious conversion. The guy stayed out of curiosity, and it was there she allegedly made the remark the magazine reported. At the time, I had no reason to doubt the account was true—even though I’ve never seen that particular magazine story mentioned anywhere else.

In 1999, some 15 years or so after the incident I read about, she was planning a concert at the London gay club GAY, and a local activist group was pressuring Summer to denounce such comments. Reporting on the controversy, NME included this paragraph:
“It's alleged that Summer made the comment in 1983 after an American concert when she invited fans backstage to talk about her then recent conversion to 'born again' Christianity. Although she admits a row did occur and words were exchanged, what was actually said has become something of a pop urban myth.”
I have no idea whether they’re referring to the same incident or not, but I can’t remember ever seeing a reference to a heated exchange before, and that could be significant: Many of us have said things in the heat of argument we later regretted, even things we don’t actually believe when calm.

Nevertheless, by 1983 I was a gay activist and any activist who still liked Summer couldn’t say so publicly. That’s ironic, really: Originally I couldn’t admit to liking Summer for fear of being identified as gay, and later I couldn’t for fear I’d be labelled as not being gay enough.

I don’t think I ever played a Donna Summer record again after the alleged incident. I know for certain that none of her records were among the handful I brought back to New Zealand with me when I went back to Chicago to collect the last of my belongings. Still, I never turned on her or rejected her or my past liking of her music, even if I now sometimes wonder what I ever saw in some of it (that happens as we age, I think).

To me, she wasn’t such a bad girl, she just worked hard for the money—sorry, I had to go there. Donna Summer will always be the one pop music artist about whom I have the most complicated feelings. That’s probably why I was never one of her biggest fans. Even so, I’m sorry she’s died.

Goodbye, Donna, and thanks—despite it all.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A brilliant idea

Today, feeling a bit grumpy about things that don’t matter, I looked to see what the furbabies were doing and saw Jake sleeping on top of a pillow he’d knocked over. I grabbed my camera, got closer, and saw the position he was in. “That can’t be comfortable,” I thought. I snapped my photos, Jake endured, and is pictured above.

Meanwhile, Sunny sat nearby watching me, seemingly wondering why I was holding up a little silver box and making it flash a bright light and “beep”. I turned the little silver box toward her. She posed, as she often does. One of them is at right.

And meanwhile again, I saw Bella was sleeping outside in the sun, one of the few sunny days we’ve had lately. I snapped several photos, but only when I was closing the door to stop did she look up. I snapped another photo. I like the combined pissed off/curious look on her face, like below.

Taking the photos turned out to be a brilliant idea, because when I was done after only a few minutes, I’d forgotten what I’d been feeling like before I started. And that was kind of the point. The animals just went back to napping.

R is for religion

Religion is a tricky subject, with the field of debate usually occupied by strong-willed antagonists. There should be room for people to disagree without being disagreeable—yes, even on the Internet—but that often doesn’t happen. Religion enters into many debates, most obviously on political issues, especially the “culture wars” issues that make headlines and raise money for both sides.

There’s no doubt that religion is important to the USA. A 2009 Gallup reported that 65% of Americans said that religion is an important part of their daily lives. More recently, they reported that Mississippi is the most religious US state with 59% classified as “very religious” for answering yes to the same question. Overall, half or more of the populations of eight US states were classified as “very religious” (for comparison, Vermont and New Hampshire were the least religious at 23%).

A map of the most religious states matches pretty closely with states that tend to vote Republican, especially in presidential elections. Not everyone is happy about that particular comingling of religion and politics.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently reported research that found 54% of Americans thought that churches should stay out of politics. Naturally, there’s a partisan divide: 60% of Democrats felt that way, but only 44% of Republicans agreed. However, 58% of Independents—who often determine the outcome of elections—agreed with Democrats.

What all of this means is that even among religious Americans, the majority don’t like the mix of religion and politics. Nowhere is that more obvious than among young adults.

Rachel Held Evens recently wrote a blog post entitled “How to win a culture war and lose a generation.” In it, she asserts that twenty-somethings like her are “tired of the culture wars”. Citing research into the behaviour of young adult Christians, she wrote that “one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends.” She also cites research that found that among 16-29 year old Americans, the top word or phrase they felt best describes Christianity is “anti-homosexual”, chosen by 91%—and also by 80% of young churchgoers.

No coincidentally, younger people are also far more likely to support marriage equality than are their parents or grandparents—even though they aren’t necessarily any different religiously. There are plenty of folks on the religious right who argue that their religious belief isn’t a matter of popular opinion, but that’s simply not true: Religious people in America once argued fervently that their faith justified keeping slaves, forbidding women the right to vote and interracial marriage, but none apart from the most extreme would make those arguments now.

All the research to date indicates that “socially liberal” views on subjects like gay and lesbian people don’t change as people age, even if other beliefs become more conservative. This is why so many pundits say the “culture wars” are a last-gasp, last stand as the overall culture inevitably shifts toward the views of younger people.

This leaves older conservative religionists in a double bind: They don’t believe their religious beliefs allow them to change their views on social issues, but if they don’t, they’ll drive away younger people who will change the culture, anyway. It can’t be an easy place to be.

In western societies, religion and politics always sit uneasily beside each other. It’s the reason the founders of the US wanted the two separated—but that’s a topic for another day. Right now, the important thing is that regardless of where one is on the political or religious spectrum, things are changing. That’s not so tricky after all.

The photo at the top of this post was taken by father, and originally accompanied this post.

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Romney economics

Mitt Romney famously declared that he enjoys firing people. As head of Bain Capital, he fired a lot of people and destroyed their lives. This video from the Obama campaign highlights Romney’s destruction of Kansas City's GST Steel. The clip description tells the story:
Kansas City's GST Steel had been making steel rods for 105 years when Romney and his partners took control in 1993. They cut corners and extracted profit from the business at every turn, placing it deeply in debt. When the company eventually declared bankruptcy, workers not only lost their jobs but were denied their full pensions and health insurance, and the government was forced to step in and provide a bailout.
So, Romney destroyed a century old business, destroyed people’s jobs, destroyed their health insurance, destroyed their pensions—he destroyed people’s lives. Romney, of course, made a lot of money destroying these people’s lives—and countless other lives throughout the country. And now, Romney wants to do to the entire US economy what he did to the people of Kansas City's GST Steel.

Romney would be a disaster for the United States. As a super-rich member of the corporate elite, he has absolutely no understanding of the needs, let alone the difficulties, of ordinary, mainstream Americans who work hard for a living. But he loves firing them!

America must tell Romney there’s no job for him.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Weekend Diversion: Annah Mac

Time from a break from all the serious subjects: This video is by Kiwi artist Annah Mac, who recently opened for One Direction in New Zealand. She was raised on a sheep farm in Tokanui, 60km outside Invercargill, and some of that rural upbringing is reflected in the song lyrics (if you want to read them, the lyrics are the only visual in the original YouTube video of the song).

Annah released her debut album, Little Stranger, late last year (it is available on iTunes). Four singles have been released from the album (also available on iTunes). A remix of Girl in Stilettos is one of those four singles, featuring Kiwi rapper Sidney Diamond (also known as Young Sid)

I chose this song because it’s very Kiwi—both in lyrics and in the video. In a global entertainment market, there’s so much that’s the same that when some unique bits of New Zealand get through, it’s sets it apart for me. Which is enough to make it this week’s Weekend Diversion.

Marriage is marriage

Over the years, I’ve criticised the newsmedia when I think they’re being sloppy, shallow or inaccurate, but in doing so I’ve also pointed out that some of this is simply because of lack of resources as news organisations cut back on staff and other support. But that doesn’t excuse journalists choosing the wrong words.

If I had to pick one thing that journalists do that annoys me the most, it would be their constant use of the phrase “gay marriage” or its cousin, “same-sex marriage”. In fact, it’s neither of those: It’s marriage.

When the fight over marriage equality began—started, we often forget, by the right wing panicking that the Hawaii Supreme Court might legalise marriage for same-sex couples—it was commonly argued that if same-sex couples just didn’t insist on calling their relationships “marriage”, it might be okay. Call them “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” or whatever, just not marriage.

The intrinsic bigotry in that should be obvious: It is a “just sit in the back of the bus and be quiet; at least you get to ride!” kind of attitude. How many heterosexuals would be content with that? What made them think we would be?

That particular fight more or less ended when the rightwing began fighting and opposing any recognition of same-sex relationships by whatever name. Mitt Romney, for example, says he opposes civil unions if they are similar to marriage, but thinks we ought to be able to visit our life partner in the hospital—gee, thanks so much, Mitt.

So, the battle is now clearly over marriage itself and when same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, just like their heterosexual friends and family can. And this is why words matter: Calling it “gay marriage” sounds like it’s a different kind of marriage, a special right. If anything, civil unions/domestic partnerships already are “gay marriage”. The United Kingdom’s civil partnership, for example, is literally “gay marriage” because heterosexual couples can’t enter into one.

When the newsmedia use the phrase “gay marriage” it frames the debate as being over something different from “real” marriage. It isn’t, if course: Marriage is marriage, and the only question is, will same-sex couples have the equal right to choose marriage if they want, or will they be forced to settle for a second-class citizen separate recognition or a third-class citizen legally mandated total lack of recognition?

Fair is fair, and it’s important to note that not all journalists do this: Many do try to be accurate in their word usage. Also, it’s very easy to use such phrases as a sort of shorthand to keep news stories fast and to the point—I’ve done that myself on this blog. But it ought to be limited to when there’s a damn good reason for doing so, like a direct quote, not as shorthand. I’ve resolved to avoid using the phrase, and I challenge journalists to do the same.

Marriage is marriage. Call things by their proper names.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A warning from personal tragedy

The video above, It Could Happen To You by Shane Bitney Crone, is a sad and cautionary tale of what can happen to loving gay couples when tragedy strikes. Homophobic families often act with heartless cruelty at such times, revealing the evil that homophobia truly is. But the point of the video is not to attack homophobic families, but rather to serve as a warning to same-sex couples to protect themselves.

There are some heterosexual opponents of marriage equality who say that same-sex couples don’t need to be married or even have civil unions because they can always file legal paperwork to get some of the legal protections of marriage. They always ignore the enormous legal costs that come with such a strategy and, more importantly, that it’s impossible to make the protection offered by such paperwork impregnable in the way that marriage largely is.

When tragedy strikes, we are all at our most vulnerable. That’s why it’s so important to get our legal affairs in order in case the unthinkable happens. But people are lazy, or maybe they simply don’t want to think about planning for death, which is the legalistic reason why marriage equality is so important.

All that aside, it’s always sad to see a love story like Tom and Shane's end, especially when it ends way too soon. At least now, a year after the tragic loss he lived through, Shane has found a way both to move forward and to make something positive from his pain. That’s really pretty remarkable.

Friday, May 11, 2012

I cannot say more

In this video, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell demolishes the myths spread by radical right hate groups simply by calling out the lies of one particular hate group leader. And so it goes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meanwhile, in New Zealand

The screen shot above is a Tweet from Labour Leader David Shearer expressing his support for marriage equality. It came after an intense Twitter storm arguing the need for Labour and Shearer to unequivocally state their support. Shearer alludes to that in his Tweet, and The New Zealand Herald covered the day’s developments.

I was part of that Twitter storm, with Tweets flying all over the place too fast for me to keep up with (still, I made my points). It’s an indication of how so very many people are so very passionate about this issue. I could tell my side of the story, though the Herald more or less covers the basics; instead I want to make a further point: This is historic for New Zealand.

Former Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark wouldn’t let marriage equality move forward, instead pushing separate but somewhat equal civil unions. Her successor, Phil Goff, sidestepped the issue. Now, Shearer is clearly on the record as supporting marriage equality (and it’s certain that New Zealand’s vocal left will hold him accountable on that).

This also matters because the Prime Minister of New Zealand for the foreseeable future will be the leader of either the Labour Party or the conservative National Party. The current Prime Minister, National Leader John Key, voted against civil unions and when asked in December last year whether he’d vote for them now, if there was a conscience vote, he refused to answer. His deputy is a conservative Roman Catholic who isn’t known for any friendliness toward GLBT New Zealanders.

So, there will be no change while National is in power. Indeed, Key has declared there’s “no clamour” for change because to the National Party, apparently, injustice can only be eliminated in response to popular demand, not because it’s the right thing to do (and already some Kiwis are organising to raise a clamour).

All of this means that a change of government offers the only chance for marriage equality to become reality in New Zealand. With Labour’s likely coalition Partner, The Greens, already on record as supporting marriage equality, Shearer’s leadership may make it happen.

So, David Shearer’s support is important. We have a long way to go, but this is a significant first step, and a very welcome one.

History happens

Sometimes history just pops up in front of us when we least expect it. Okay it’s actually historical events—history comes later—but you get the idea. Today was one of those days when an historical event sneaks up and gooses you: Today, Barack Obama finally evolved.

Well, mostly evolved, but more about that later.

It’s important to note significant events when they happen, and today Obama became the first sitting US President to support marriage equality. To many of us, that’s a bit like saying one thinks oxygen is good, but it took Obama a little longer to reach that point.

His critics are legion. From the side of the good guys came complaints that he should have done it years ago or, at least, before yesterday’s vote in North Carolina. Some argue that his equivocation that states should be able to make their own marriage laws means nothing’s changed. Still others on our side of the political divide just dislike him for obscure reasons.

Our adversaries, of course, piled on him. They said—well, it doesn’t really matter what they said because they say the same things every time and, in any case, there was no way that they’d ever vote for him, even if he’d instead backed a constitutional amendment to forever ban marriage equality (as presumptive Republican Nominee Mitt Romney does). Still, the people who would never, ever vote for him are extra double-plus not going to vote him. Yawn.

All of which does beg the question: Does this change anything? Yes, no and maybe.

Yes, because it could change lives: It sends a clear message to young people that the President of the United States thinks they’re worthwhile and they, too, can grow up, one day fall in love and marry that person, even if they’re of the same gender. If it stops just one GLBT youth from committing suicide, then I’d say we got a pretty sweet deal.

No, it will not change any rightwing minds. Until their hearts and minds open, there’s nothing anyone can say that will cause them to come to their senses. It could energise rightwing religious nutjobs (aka, the base of the Republican Party), but Romney will still be a Mormon, and that’s a huge problem with that same base.

Maybe this will make some independents and also progressive Democrats “come home” and support the president’s re-election. Apart from the permanently grumpy brigade on the left, this could help re-energise supporters. Whether this happens or not will determine whether Obama’s statement will affect the election or not.

The whole state thing means this evolution is incomplete. I think it’s a stupid position for anyone to have—but it’s also politically realistic. The USA is a federal union of 50 sovereign republics and marriage is a state matter. The activist right is riled up whenever they think “states’ rights” are being curtailed by politicians, and those loonies gave us a Republican-controlled US House of Representatives. That’s the realistic part.

However, the refusal of one state to recognise a same-sex marriage from another state sure looks awfully unconstitutional, as does that part of the Defense (sic) of Marriage Act that says they can do that. Congress simply can’t give states a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card to allow them to ignore other states’ same-sex marriages.

Even when DOMA is finally repealed or struck down, it will take a US Supreme Court ruling to compel states to recognise these marriages, just as it took Loving v. Virginia to force some states to recognise inter-racial marriage and to overturn state laws forbidding it. A president should lead on that front: Romney never will, but I’m now willing to bet that a re-elected President Obama will.

Today is very much better than yesterday. Thank you, Mr. President, for helping to make history happen just a little bit faster.

Photo accompanying this post was Tweeted by @TheDemocrats, the Twitter feed of the USA’s Democratic Party.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Right on cue

Yesterday I blogged about the government’s quasi-eugenics plans to offer “voluntary” long-term contraceptives to women on a benefit and their teenage daughters. I mentioned that our far-right “Christian” lobby was taking a position both ways, but, nevertheless, the debate here was quite different from in the USA. Naturally, that couldn’t last.

Today New Zealand’s most prominent fundamentalist Christian politician rubbished the plans because only sluts use contraception. That wasn’t quite how he put it, of course, but it was his clear meaning. Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Colin Craig, the leader of the rightwing “Christian” Conservative Party said:
"Why should, say, a 70-year-old who's had one partner all their life be paying for a young woman to sleep around? We are the country with the most promiscuous young women in the world. This does nothing to help us at all."
He apparently thinks that no monogamous woman would ever use contraception when, in fact, most women do, statistically speaking. And his assertion that New Zealand’s young women are the world’s “most promiscuous”? Utter nonsense.

Craig said “international research” had shown our women were promiscuous and living what he called a “destructive lifestyle”. That “research” was actually a 2006 survey conducted by a manufacturer of condoms to help them better market their products. The manufacturer says, “we can confirm this survey is reliable and credible.” And so, they disclose their margin of error, their confidence level and so on, right? Well, no. Instead, they declare it’s credible because:
“We have used a sample size of 1,000 for the majority of countries surveyed which is the recommended sample size required for social policy and PR activity.”
So, they say their survey is accurate because they had a thousand people and that’s the right number of participants. Okay, then. The surveys were conducted online in all but one country and taken among people invited by email, mainly from a marketing research panel—not a truly random sample at all, in other words.

To sum it up: We have a non-representative sample, no data on whether there’s even a shred of scientific method involved, all of which makes the entire thing suspect, but Craig, who John Key thinks could be a coalition partner for National after the 2014 elections, thinks a dubious marketing survey qualifies as “international research” on which he’s happy to blast ordinary New Zealand women for being sluts:
"We are faced with a reality that the constant changing of partners is a decision young women are making. It's a destructive decision on a lot of levels. Health is one of those, and it is a big cost to us."
Either Colin Craig is an idiot, or he’s allowing his personal religious prejudices to get in the way of reason and intellect. Actually, it’s entirely possible that both are true—the jury’s still out on that.

Prime Minister John Key may have begun to see what a nutter Craig is. He stated that there’s no credible evidence to back up Craig’s slurs, but still didn’t rule out working with him in the future: "We work with lots of partners and we don't always agree with everything they say and they don't always agree with us. It doesn't mean that we can't work constructively," he said.

However, for the first time Key said he might consider working with New Zealand First and Winston Peters after the next election, even though in the past he’d flatly ruled Peters out. With the Act “Party” all but sure to die when John Banks leaves Parliament, Key is becoming desperate to find coalition partners—one could even say he’s being promiscuous, politically speaking.

I think we should be glad Craig has no censor connected to his mouth. By saying what he really thinks, he’s helped ordinary, mainstream Kiwis see how loopy he is.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Only women breed

There are times when conservatives seem positively Victorian in their attitudes toward women. Their furrowed-brow frown on much of sexuality is obvious, but it’s women in particular who suffer conservatives brutalising lash.

We see this in the USA, where Republicans are waging a war on women, and also here in New Zealand where the National Party-led government is planning to offer free “optional” long term contraception to women beneficiaries, including teenagers and also the daughters of beneficiaries aged 16 to 19. The government believes these women are at risk of being remaining on benefits long term. Naturally, they haven’t said a single word on men’s role in the making of little baby beneficiaries.

This whole thing is just creepy.

The plan stems from a widely held belief among Tories that there are beneficiaries who use childbirth as a way to stay on benefits, though there’s no evidence I’ve seen that their folk wisdom is actually true. It’s far more likely that such women are trapped in a poverty cycle due to life choices, yes, but also class, upbringing, etc., and not because of some nefarious plan to sponge off the taxpayer.

The Tories’ condescending attitude, says, basically, that women beneficiaries are either crafty bludgers, or they’re too stupid to understand contraception or family planning, but either way, they’re not to be trusted with such decisions. Better to decide for them and reduce the likelihood of more lower-class children being born.

However, National’s other “reforms” include requiring mothers on a benefit to return to work when their child is only one year old—even though the jobs simply aren’t there (the jobless rate inched up again in the last quarter). There’s no incentive for mothers on a benefit to have more children.

The original proposal was even worse: Contraception was to be mandatory. But how “voluntary” will it really be when women have to deal with caseworkers who alone will decide whether she gets a benefit or not? There will be many women who believe they have no choice, even if it is supposedly “voluntary”.

And what of the men in these women’s lives? Do they have no responsibility at all in this? Or does male privilege mean they can make as many little baby beneficiaries as they want to, with no consequences?

Instead, National is singling out poor women to try and get them to stop breeding, and that’s why this is so creepy: It’s little more than eugenics dressed in respectable clothing.

Still, there’s a glaring difference with conservatives in the US: Here, government wants poor women to have contraception, not prevent them from having it. New Zealand’s extreme christian right lobby is having it both ways: They support giving contraception to teenage beneficiaries as being “common sense”, but oppose giving it to teenage daughters of beneficiaries, arguing “The message we should be sending these teenagers is to promote strong relationships, and delaying sexual activity until they are ready for the consequences.” What, they think their abstinence message is too late for teenage mothers on the benefit? Why is it okay to help mothers “prevent future pregnancies until they are ready for having another child,” but teenage daughters don’t get such support? Logical consistency has never been their strongest feature.

Helping poor women to avoid having children may help them to ease out of poverty and into work, but only if the men in their lives are held responsible, too, and only if there are actually jobs for these women to go to. As it is, it’s just another National Party policy of going after beneficiaries, and treating women badly. National’s Victorian ancestors would be pleased.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Dot is funny

I like political satire. A lot. This song skewers John Banks, the sole “Act Party” Member of Parliament who is currently embroiled in a controversy (and police investigation) over possibly illegal campaign contributions. The joke in this song is that Banks continually claims he can’t remember things. Uh huh, right.

When current Prime Minister John Key was Leader of the Opposition, he insisted that then-Prime Minister Helen Clark stand down Winston Peters when he was embroiled in his own campaign contributions scandal. Now, of course, he’s taking the exact opposite position because he needs Banks’ vote in Parliament to keep in government. Hypocrisy is the first word that comes to mind to describe John Key’s position.

The video was made by Kim Dotcom who gave Banks some of the campaign contributions in question when Banks unsuccessfully ran for mayor of the merged Auckland. Part of the strategy of Banks and Prime Minister John Key has been to try and dismiss the serious allegations because they were made by Dotcom, who they have villainised. The US government, at the behest of the US entertainment lobby, is alleging Dotcom is a criminal, but he is—or ought to be—presumed innocent until proven guilty. At the moment, we have only the allegations of the US government’s lawyers, but John Key and the New Zealand newsmedia are going along with the meme that he’s guilty; that, too, serves the interests of the US entertainment lobby.

I actually expect that Key, who is known to become angry, petty and petulant when people oppose him publicly, will order TVNZ to file a takedown order over the sampling of some of their audio. It’s the kind of thing Key would do.

So, what we have is a huge mess, and a huge headache for John Key. John Banks is damaged goods: If he survives all this and serves to the end of this term of government, he stands no chance of re-election. All of which means that even if Dotcom is ultimately convicted, he will nevertheless have had a role in bringing down John Banks, and that’s something for which we can all be grateful.


One thing that the financial success of “The Avengers” shows is that global release of content is the way forward. Friday of last week I wrote about the problems with geo-restricting content, and I mentioned how film studios were starting to have global releases. The record box office take by “The Avengers” demonstrates why this is such a good idea. I hope other media companies learn that lesson.

The French correction

The victory of Socialist French presidential candidate Francois Hollande over the incumbent conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has gotten the talkerati chattering about “what it means”. What’s obvious in the French election results, and those in Greece, is that ordinary people have had a gutsful of the economic “experts” prescribing austerity. This is good.

The current economic consensus throughout the Western world is an inherently neo-conservative (also called “neo-liberal”) one in which governments are expected to cut spending and services that benefit ordinary citizens while also cutting taxes for business and the rich and, voila! neo-conservative magic will make the world wonderful again. One small problem: It’s all a crock.

Those left of centre all know that the proven way to end recession is through targeted government spending to stimulate economic growth and recovery. This has been proven over and over again—which makes the neo-conservative mantra that this has “failed” laughable. Left of centre governments know that it’s foolish and ultimately self-defeating to shove all of the burden in fixing an economy onto the backs of ordinary people.

And yet we have newsmedia around the world—including New Zealand—taking for granted that the extreme and severe austerity measures imposed on Greece are sensible and rational because, in faux basso profundo, there is no alternative. That’s no surprise: They are big corporations, after all.

The fact is, there’s ALWAYS an alternative. Looking after ordinary people first, before the corporate elites, is one of the core responsibilities of government, whether the elites or newsmedia corporations like it or not. Clearly ordinary people are starting to rebel and take back their governments from the hands of the neo-conservatives and corporate elites. C'est bon.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Weekend Diversion: Drake Jensen

The video above is by Drake Jensen, who I’d never heard of until today, not until someone I know on Twitter re-Tweeted someone I didn’t know. So, following the trail, I read how Drake describes himself on Twitter:
North America's first open gay male country recording artist. Drake's priority? To make sure country fans in the LGBT community have a voice of representation."
I’m not much of a country fan, gay or otherwise, but I do like some songs and some artists. And yet, I’ve been aware that country music has long had a solidly heterosexual focus—actually, that’s part of why I’ve never become a big fan: I can’t relate to much of country music as easily as I can to pop music which is, more often than not, general in nature. Pop music is also more likely to have openly gay artists.

But I do like the idea of gay country performers bringing some “realness” to the genre—that’s definitely a good thing. Drake seems very positive and eager to interact with his fans—something that rates very highly for me (only a few recording artists that I follow also follow me back; Drake followed back within minutes—he gets bonus points for that).

And, fortunately, I like what I’ve heard so far. The video above is “On My Way To Finding You”, the first single from Drake’s debut album of the same name. It, the album and his second single, “Scars”, are all available from iTunes. The video below is “All You Need”, another song from his debut album, and a song I like a lot.

Drake's website has more information about him.

Well, this has been a week of music firsts for me: I blogged about a hip-hop artist and now I’m blogging about a country artist. Clearly, anything’s possible.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


This is the President Obama video that this week got the USA’s increasingly unhinged rightwing into its latest frenzy. It wasn’t because of what’s in the video itself, what the president says or even the facts he discusses; instead, it was all because of one word that appears on screen at the very end: Forward. To the loonies on the right, that word offered proof, PROOF, they shouted with spittle flying from their mouths, that the president is a communist. Seriously. (I did say these people were unhinged!)

This is just so bizarrely bizarre that it almost seems like the rightwing has been consumed by super lunacy from the super moon. The word forward is used for all kinds of organisations, including serving as the state motto of the state of Wisconsin (they put it on their state seal, pictured).

The rightwing hates President Obama and they always have. In truth, they hate pretty much all Democratic politicians at any level, but they have a special hatred for the president. So, the fact that they’d seize on this one word to fuel one of their weirdest conspiracy theories isn’t really a surprise.

Still, normal, mainstream Americans, who don’t frequent the rightwing netherworld of paranoia, self-satisfied entitlement and arrogant hubris probably haven’t even heard of all this, and that, too, isn’t s surprise: Normal, mainstream Americans are simply too busy moving forward.

As it should be.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Saying what’s needed

Rapper Adair Lion’s “Ben” (video above) is something that hip hop has been missing: An obviously pro-gay message. So much of rap and hip hop are misogynistic and anti-gay, so it’s refreshing when a rapper isn’t. It’s downright shocking when one is actually positive about GLBT people.

On his site, Adair says that his best friend in college came out to him, and, later, he was influenced by Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project. He added that while he was producing music for his new album, "Michael & Me", he came across the a cappella of Michael Jackson's "Ben", and “It amazed me at how perfectly the lyrics fit if one were to think of Ben as the gay community.”

Funny thing, that. I remember the song when it was new, and it’s message of unconditional acceptance of a friend that everyone else rejected struck a chord with me—though, since I was a kid myself, slightly younger than Michael, I kept coming back to the fact Ben was a rat. Even so, it was the first time I can remember a pop song giving me such a useful message.

On his site, Adair also talks about the symbolism in the video (and how he quotes Harvey Milk). I liked the video, especially after reading what he had to say about it, but I loved the multi-racial, multi-ethnic scene at the end. Such things give me hope.

I hope Adair does well with his song and his album. I think he might have found a new fan.

Tip o' the Hat to Kyle in Hawaii who shared this video on Facebook.

Update 23 August 2012: I'd planned on a new post today, one highlighting the praise—and success—Adair has received for doing this song and video. I was going to link to an LA Times article in the Chicago Tribune, and some of the positive things it talked about. I was also going to link to this post so that readers could watch the video. But today—unlike when I first posted the video—it’s been blocked in New Zealand (and, I assume, other countries) by Universal Music Group “on copyright grounds”. Apparently UMG would rather people download an illegal copy somewhere than view it through a legitimate source. And this sort if stupidity is why the big entertainment companies have such a problem with piracy: They treat their customers and potential customers as enemies. This is the very definition of corporate stupidity.

Update 2: Although I didn't know it when I posted the above update, a different version of the video had been uploaded in May, 2012. Apparently UMG made the copyright claim because of brief samples from Michael Jackson's "Ben". They ordered it taken down after 13 days and 155,000 views. I've replaced the original version with the one above. It features only Adair (no MJ samples) and, in my opinion, isn't as strong as the original. Still, this is now the only way for anyone to see what I was talking about, so this will have to do.

Avert our eyes

I took a break at lunch today and clicked on an online video. The message above is what I got. This isn’t unusual, though the honest wording is (they usually just say it’s “unavailable in your country” or something similarly vague).

People living outside the USA get used to seeing sort of thing—and are constantly annoyed by it. We're blocked from seeing some online videos because we're not in the US (online audio tracks aren’t usually geo-restricted). This applies mainly to music videos and TV shows on mainstream sites, including YouTube and the sites of US TV networks (of course, some NZ online videos can't be viewed in the US).

This situation is just plain stupid: The restrictions are easily defeated and only serve to piss off people. What industry other than the entertainment industry can get away with treating their customers so badly, and with such contempt?

The irony is that these restrictions actually encourage piracy—especially of TV shows. We have a globally connected world that’s created a de facto global entertainment market. However, geographic restrictions mean that consumers who want to share in the experience of a TV show with their friends and family around the world often have no viable alternative to illegal downloads.

That gets at a related problem: If TV shows from the US ever come to New Zealand at all, it’s often weeks—or even months—after they first aired in the US. That’s improved—a little. Time was, TV shows from the US could be delayed by more than a year, even 18 months. Nowadays, the maximum is months. Movies, too, were often delayed by many months, but the trend has been toward global release dates so there’s less reason to download illegal copies of movies.

The problem in all this is twofold: Copyright restrictions affect everything online. Those rights are controlled by megacorporations in the entertainment industry, who have ultimate control over who sees what where when and how.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

P is for Pūkeko

Ever since I started taking part in ABC Wednesday, I knew what the letter P would be: The Pūkeko. It’s my favourite bird in New Zealand.

The Pūkeko (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotu) has impossibly blue feathers, a large red-orange beak and big, goofy feet, all of which make it endearing. The bird is a subspecies of the purple swamphen, a member of the rail family of birds. In New Zealand, it’s often found along roadways, foraging in the drains (ditches along the side of the road), so being killed by cars is one of their biggest risks.

The birds arrived in New Zealand less than a thousand years ago (some researchers say only a few hundred years ago) and is now endemic. But while the cousins they left behind in Australia are still quite good at flying, Pūkeko tend to walk away from danger, only flying in short hops. The birds are also a close relative of New Zealand’s Takahē, the largest member of the rail family.

I like the Pūkeko because it’s calm, stately and blue. Indigenous peoples revered it, too, and there’s little evidence that it was used as food. The Romans kept their version as pets, not eating them, either. The Pūkeko was voted New Zealand’s “Bird of the Year” for 2011.

When talking about wildlife, the words endemic and indigenous are often used interchangeably. However, the word indigenous is generally used for plants and animals that originated in a place, while endemic is used for plants and animals found in a particular, identifiable geographic area. So, Pūkeko are not indigenous (or native) to New Zealand, because they originated elsewhere, but they are endemic here (particularly because they’re starting to show differences with their Australian cousins).

When we talk about people, however, indigenous people are the first peoples to inhabit an area, and the word native, when talking about indigenous people, has become offensive. Instead, the word native has come to mean anyone born in a particular place. So, the Māori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand, while one could also say that Māori and Pākehā (people of European ancestry) alike are native New Zealanders; one could say that, but hardly anyone here actually would.

The video at the top of this post is a TV ad for Genesis Energy, a state-owned (for now…) electricity company. It shows the birds moving (that one is trained, of course), as well as what its chicks look like. The photo below is of a Pūkeko in Marlborough (in the South Island), taken by Sid Mosdell and released under a Creative Commons license.

So, that’s my favourite bird in New Zealand. What’s your favourite bird?

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!

Sunshine girls

This morning as I went to make a cup of coffee, I noticed that Sunny was lying, appropriately enough, in a small patch of sunshine (her brother Jake had gone back to bed). I went to get my camera and snapped a few photos. As you do. Then, coffee in hand, I looked over as I passed by and noticed that Bella had joined Sunny in the patch of sunshine. This isn’t unusual, but not common, either. If Sunny looks a little apprehensive, it’s mostly because she gets a little dopey laying in the warm sunshine—that, and she’s aware of Bella’s “sharp fingers”. Bella left soon after I snapped the photo.