Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Second step done

Marriage equality is now one step closer to becoming law in New Zealand. Today Parliament’s Government Administration Committee recommended the bill be passed.

The recommendation was by majority vote, as was the determination that “marriage is a human right, and that it is unacceptable for the state to deny this right to same-sex couples.” The minority felt it’s not a human right, so it’s okay to discriminate against same-gender couples.

Religion is, of course, the obstacle to marriage equality wherever it has been considered. The committee said, “It is our intention that the passage of this bill should not impact negatively upon people’s religious freedoms,” but it also stated quite clearly: “The Marriage Act enables people to become legally married; it does not ascribe moral or religious values to marriage. The bill seeks to extend the legal right to marry to same-sex couples; it does not seek to interfere with people’s religious freedoms.”

To ensure it doesn’t they’re proposing to amend the bill to clarify the exemption clause. At the moment, it reads: “A marriage licence shall authorize but not oblige any marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage to which it relates.” Even though official advice is that this section protects ministers of religion from having to perform marriages for same-gender couples, the religious right insisted ministers would be “forced” to perform such marriages against their will or beliefs. Yeah, like that would ever happen.

The new subsection (2) would read:
"Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), no celebrant who is a minister of religion recognised by a religious body enumerated in Schedule 1, and no celebrant who is a person nominated to solemnize marriages by an approved organisation, is obliged to solemnize a marriage if solemnizing that marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or the religious beliefs or philosophical or humanitarian convictions of the approved organisation.”
I’m not a huge fan of exempting religions from obeying civil laws, but this seems like a somewhat acceptable compromise. I say that, first, because the exemption is broad and does not apply to gay marriage alone. Also, second, it applies only to ministers and celebrants associated with an organisation. As I read it—and I certainly could be wrong—an individual registered as a celebrant can’t use his or her own prejudices to justify refusing to perform marriage ceremonies. All of this, though, is stupid: No same-gender couple would want their special day ruined by “forcing” a homophobic minister or celebrant to perform their marriage ceremony. To suggest otherwise is frankly pathetic.

One recommendation is clearly pandering to the religious extremists: They recommend repealing section 56 which says that it is an offence to impugn or deny the validity of a lawful marriage. Rightwing religious opponents declared that this bill would make it a crime for them to denounce the marriages of same-gender couples from their pulpits, or that they’d somehow be “forced” to acknowledge such marriages in some way they don’t want to. Or something—their logic was always hard to follow.

So, the religious right had their only two semi-rational objections addressed. Naturally, they’re happy, right? Bob “Slippery Slope!” McCoskrie was not, of course, but the headline on his press release was downright bizarre (even for him and his politics of diversion and distraction): “‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’ To Be Removed From Family Laws”. Huh?!

One of Bob’s weirder diversions has been claiming that the marriage equality law would make the words “husband” and “wife” illegal. The reality is that when we have marriage equality, using those words in law would make no sense whatsoever. People can call each other—or other people’s spouses—whatever they want. This is a total non-issue.

But Bob goes on to raise one of his big lies: That the bill is being “rammed through” and that the committee “ignored” submissions, hearing only “1% of submissions”. That is a bald-faced, flat-out lie. The facts are so simple that it’s impossible to believe that Bob really doesn’t understand the numbers.

According to the Bill’s sponsor, Louisa Wall, the Select Committee received 21,533 submissions, however, 18,898 had similar content, what they called “generic submissions” (many of which came from websites from both opponents and supporters). That means only 2635 had unique content. The Committee heard 220 oral submissions. So, they actually heard about 8.34% of the real submissions.

Bob has real trouble understanding numbers, of course. I’ve talked about this here and here and also here. But his real game is, like all rightwing religious political activists, to try and pretend that they’re “victims” and that they’re being ignored. They’re not, of course: They just want mainstream New Zealanders to think they are. The reality is that the entirety of their argument is based on their particular conservative religious beliefs, and the Committee has dealt with their objections.

Enough about the rightwingers. I’ll close with words from some of the good guys in this.

Louisa Wall said, ““Marriage equality is about fairness and choice. This process has showed that that message has really resonated with New Zealanders and has been echoed overseas with the recent passage of similar legislation in the UK.”

Conrad Reyners, spokesperson for the NZ Campaign for Marriage Equality, said, "The report sends a clear message that New Zealand is ready for marriage equality. It is a ringing endorsement of love, fairness, family, and for the equal treatment of all kiwis before the law."

The bill's second reading will be held on March 13. Final passage is expected by mid year.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Unlikely ally

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop
C. Everett Koop, who died today at 96, was an unlikely ally in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I remember very well why we never expected what we got from him.

When President Ronald Reagan nominated Koop to be Surgeon General in 1982, many of us expected the worst. We’d already spent a year fighting the excesses of his administration and the rightwingers who rode Reagan’s coattails into Congress. So, when we heard that Reagan was appointing an anti-abortion children’s doctor, I don’t think anyone in the centre or left of US politics thought we’d see anything good from him.

We were wrong.

Koop was a doctor who put his profession and duty ahead of his own personal religious beliefs, and ahead of the partisan political agenda of his own party. I believe that he was the only person who could have led the fight against HIV/AIDS at that time: The early and mid 1980s were filled with sexism and homophobia, and no one except a heterosexual male anti-abortion doctor could have made the case for compassion and understanding of the disease.

Some AIDS activists faulted him for his emphasis on prevention rather than searching for a cure, or at least better treatments, faster. But in the decades since, we’ve seen how elusive a vaccine or cure have proven to be, and there’s still no reason to think that more money would have sped things up, not with so much science yet to be done (the human genome hadn’t even been mapped at the stage). Also, prevention is always cheaper and faster than either treatment or a cure.

He certainly wasn’t perfect or a saint: In addition to expressing opposition to abortion, he also said that he personally “opposed” homosexuality. Yet what makes him so remarkable is that despite those personal views, he refused to scapegoat or demonise gay men—quite the opposite—at a time when politicians were calling for quarantining gay men, even putting them into concentration camps. We forget how scary those days really were for gay men.

Koop resisted the partisan political imperatives of the Reagan administration not just on HIV/AIDS, but also abortion, when he refused to go along with their demand that he produce a report to claim that abortion caused bad effects on women’s health. When the report was issued despite his attempts to stop it, he said publicly that he’d never read it.

So, in Koop the US had exactly the sort of person who should be Surgeon General: Someone who did their job and who put the country ahead of party. Why are there no more Republicans like him?!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Family tapas night

Friday evenings have long been when we get together with my sister in law and niece for dinner. It started as Takeaway Night when we moved back to Auckland in 2006, and we’ve continued ever since. It’s one of the highlights of my week.

Despite the name, we don’t always have takeaways—sometimes I cook, things like roast dinners in winter, maybe something in the slow cooker, or maybe some new recipe we want to try out. Whatever the meal, it’s always fun to get together over food and wine and talk about our week and the world around us. I sincerely treasure those times.

Well, lately we’ve gone out for tapas a few times and liked that the smaller portions mean we can get a variety of things to try and enjoy without over eating. That gave me an idea: Why not make tapas at home?

So, I researched a few recipes online, then went to the grocery store and looked for things that I could make into something. Basically, it went, “I can make something with that!”

Last night was my first attempt, though it ended up as a kind of cross between tapas and antipasto. As the “main” dish, I made a “Spanish Tortilla” (basically a frittata). I mention that first because the photo above, taken by our niece using her phone (and later Facebooked, of course), doesn’t show it. The photo lets me describe what IS in the photo:

The square dish is an individual portion of Haloumi Salad, with the lightly fried Haloumi cheese served on mixed salad greens with yellow and red cherry tomatoes, a small dollop of basil pesto and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

The ball to the left of the salad is Arancini, a risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella and rolled in breadcrumbs. Normally, this is basically deep fried, but I browned them in a little olive oil and then heated them through in the oven to reduce the fat. It was served with various chutneys and sauces. This was a big hit, though next time I’ll make them smaller and add some salt (I don’t usually cook with salt).

In front is the bright red Peppadew (basically, a mini bell pepper) stuffed with cream cheese. The peppers were store bought and we stuffed them. It’s possible to buy them already stuffed, but we think they’re WAY too hot; our version is milder.

To the right (and visible on the plate in the background) is prosciutto stuffed with a cream cheese, sour cream and basil filling and rolled. Also on that plate in the background is pancetta stuffed with the same filling (these were my invention so there’d be things that didn’t require bread or crackers to eat). Our niece’s plate also has a bit of French bread with a smear of guacamole, both provided by my sister in law.

We also had things I didn’t make: Some pâté, some pesto, some special cream cheese spread (and that guacamole), all with a selection of gluten-free crackers and crostini. We also had some store-bought olives and feta, plus grapes and other small fruit.

There were six of us this week, and we all had a lovely time and a satisfying meal without over eating—which was the whole point of the experiment. I learned a lot, and I’ll definitely be doing this again. Still, I’ll probably buy a tapas cookbook at some point so there’s more variety.

And that’s the story of our first Family Tapas Night.

Not so crazy

Sometimes it seems like most Republican politicians are flat-out crazy, since every single day brings news of yet another one doing something that’s, well, crazy. “Crazy like a fox” is often more accurate.

Today ThinkProgress published a piece about a Republican state representative in Montana who introduced a bill to allow corporations to vote in local elections. Yes, seriously.

To mainstream people, this might seem insane, or, at the very least, taking Mitt Romney’s famous declaration, “Corporations are people, my friend” WAY too far. Yet there’s a method in this seeming madness: Power.

It turns out the state rep had been on the “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” of the notorious rightwing group ALEC, before the group disbanded it. That task force was the birthplace of the voter suppression legislation Republicans introduced in state legislatures around the country.

So, this guy’s new bill is just part of the same rightwing agenda: Stop ordinary people from voting and advance the interests of the rich and corporate elites.

The rightwing in the US is infected with the worldview of Ayn Rand, whose glorification of selfishness above all else led to the rightwing bleating on about “Makers” (them) and “Takers” (all the rest of us). To the right, we’re all “moochers” sucking “their” money from them through taxes to pay for “free” things.

The only way for the right to ensure their selfishness is rewarded is to deny any voice to mainstream voters. They try to do this, first, through voter suppression: Keep ordinary people from voting, especially Democrats, and their side can win elections. Then, give corporations a vote so they’ll get to dominate local politics, too, ensuring that the taxes the rich pay are cut and cities will stop paying for frivolous things like sewage systems, clean water, roads, and so on.

All of this is also related to the Republican proposal to change the way Electoral College votes are allocated in some US states (only those that lean Democratic, of course, which I wrote about last month). That plan, together with voter suppression and allowing corporations to vote could ensure that they win elections they’d lose without the chicanery. If that happened, they could further cement their power, transforming themselves from “Makers” into our masters, and us into their servants.

Fortunately, it’s not easy to destroy democracy, and significant pushback has slowed the rightwing down: The Electoral College plot seems to have died, some of their union-busting efforts have failed, ALEC had to close down their voter suppression efforts and that Montana Republican’s bill was tabled. All of those victories for common sense, mainstream people and democracy itself are only temporary: The rightwing will try again, and they may eventually succeed on some or all of their agenda.

There’s still time to save democracy by voting them out of office—while it’s still possible to do so. However, the rightwing is patient and will bide its time, relying on both the inattention and the apathy of mainstream voters. So, guys like that Montana Republican aren’t really so crazy after all. Are we?

Friday, February 22, 2013

A real Republican

There's a HUGE difference between real Republicans and the leadership of their party. While I may not always agree with them, I can respect their commitment to freedom and individual liberty. Their party leaders, on the other hand, are crass, craven opportunists, more often than not.

Earlier today I posted a rant about Republican leaders’ mendacity and lack of courage in the marriage equality debate. However, real Republicans are another matter entirely, and a good example of that is the video above, the latest ad in the series from Respect for Marriage Coalition.

In this ad, former Marine Corporal Craig Stowell talks about how he fought for freedom and “that’s what we believe in as Republicans”. The ad also shows that this issue is about family, because he’s long been a strong advocate for his gay brother’s right to marry.

Freedom and family are supposed to be two core principles of the Republican Party. Fortunately, real Republicans get that and aren’t afraid to stand up for what’s right, even if their leaders are too cowardly to do so.

Typical GOP ‘courage’

Laura Bush has shown why national Republican leaders and personalities seem to lack courage: She demanded that she be removed from the new marriage equality print and TV ads from Respect for Marriage Coalition. She’s really just a typical Republican.

While support for marriage equality in the USA is bipartisan among all voters, the Republican base hasn’t yet caught up. Indeed, the strongest opposition comes from typical Republican voters: Older, white, very religious people, men in particular. The problem for Republican politicians is that those people, and the frothing rightwing generally, are the ones who determine who wins Republican Party nominations. Republican politicians are frightened to do anything the base hates—and they hate quite a lot.

So the inclusion of three former Republican leaders in the ads, while welcome, is hardly courageous: None of them have anything to lose, as Salon’s Joan Walsh noted, “It takes zero courage to follow the crowd on a human rights issue, especially after your own political career is over.”

What then of Laura Bush’s rediscovered cowardice?

Many pundits expect that Jeb Bush will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and the Republican base would punish him if a member of the family—even his sister-in-law—was seen as campaigning for marriage equality. Even if Jeb doesn’t run, other Bush family members are expected to try to run for office over the next few election cycles, and the last thing this would-be political dynasty needs is a family member breaking from required Republican positions on issues like marriage equality.

So, my bet is that Laura Bush was launched into full damage control mode to protect the political futures of family members. After all, she never spoke up on the issue until she was trying to get people to buy her book—not even once when her voice might have made a difference.

Same for Dick Cheney. When Karl Rove was using gay marriage as a wedge issue to elect George Bush and other Republicans to office, Cheney, like Laura Bush, said nothing. Instead, they both waited until after they couldn’t be harmed. Bush, her book selling tour over, reverted to Republican politicians’ form and slunk back into her safe political hiding place.

So, Laura Bush apparently lacks even a tiny amount of the “zero courage” Walsh wrote about. When Bush demanded that she be removed from the ads, she also managed to kill off the tiny little bit of respect I had for a Bush. Now, I’m back to thinking they’re all cynical, opportunistic tossers.

Colin Powell is in another place altogether. The Republican base hates him because he endorsed President Obama, so they don’t really care what he says about anything. At 75, he’s unlikely to care what that base thinks, either.

I’m glad (and surprised) when any Republican politician dares to stand up to the party’s frothing base on any issue, but to do so for marriage equality is especially notable. However, the people we see doing this tend to be at the state and local level, with the leaders of the national party either remaining silent or cynically and opportunistically pandering to their frothing base (the few national Republican leaders who are true believers in the far right’s positions are another case altogether, and there are few of them).

We haven’t seen anything yet on the issue of marriage equality that demonstrates any courage whatsoever on the part of any national Republican politician, but we’ve seen plenty of mendacity. Laura Bush’s craven retreat to the “safe” Republican space is really just typical Republican “courage”. I’m still waiting for real courage—I just don’t expect to see it any time soon.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It’s time for marriage

Above is a marriage equality ad that began airing today. Titled “Leadership”, the ad features President Obama, Former Vice President Dick Cheney, Former First Lady Laura Bush and Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, all supporting marriage equality.

The ad reflects the growing bipartisan nature of the support for marriage equality. Polls show that this is no longer just a Democratic or liberal position, because conservatives and Republicans are also increasingly supporting the right of LGBT couples to marry.

The ad is from Respect for Marriage Coalition, which includes more than 80 organisations that support the freedom to marry. The group is also running full page ads in papers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post (details of the campaign are in their media release).

I really like this ad because it doesn’t shy away from saying that this issue is about gay and lesbian couples being able to legally marry, and does so in a bipartisan manner. Both are important in the political fight.

I also like that they’re running this under a simple, social media friendly slogan: It’s #Time4Marriage – because, really, that’s what this is all about.

Update: Laura Bush has demanded that she be removed from the ad campaign. What a courageous gal, eh? Naturally, I wrote a full-length rant about this.

How to sell stuff

THIS is how to generate buzz for your company, probably leading to sales: Create an ad that goes viral, one that people like and won’t mock.

The video above is an ad for Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, a new version of their famed e-reader. Like its predecessor, it’s small and lightweight and can be read in strong sunlight. Unlike its predecessor, it has a built-in light that allows reading in the dark—but it does so without shining light into readers’ eyes. It also has a touchscreen.

I really like my Kindle, but if I’m reading in low light or in bed, I use the Kindle software on my iPad. There are cases with lights for the old models like mine, but I think that kind of defeats the purpose of having the small, lightweight Kindle. So, if I were buying a new e-reader, I’d probably buy the Kindle Paperwhite, which makes sense: It’s what I wish the one I have now was.

This is all my opinion, of course, and Amazon hasn’t paid me anything for the endorsement. However, if you click the link above and buy one, I’d get a few cents. Apparently you’re supposed to declare such things nowadays.

Whatever; I just like it—and the ad.

Some Illinois pride

Tomorrow, National Journal will publish rankings of the most liberal and most conservative members of the US Congress, according to members’ votes. Today, they released teasers that are interesting in themselves.

Among the US Senate's top 16 most liberal members, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was rated as tied for third. This is ironic, considering how many in the US' political left don't like him because of his record on certain issues (a topic in itself, but his incorrect stance on Internet freedom is one of them). Still, he’s right on many issues, and politics is not a game that purists win.

Illinois’ other US Senator, Republican Mark Kirk, was not on the list of the top 16 most conservative US Senators. That’s good. The top 16 are all Republicans, of course. Also, I doubt many Americans have ever heard of the most conservative Senator (I hadn’t).

Among the top 26 most liberal House Members are three from Illinois, including two (Danny Davis and Bobby Rush) in a 14-way tie for most liberal. My own US Representative, Jan Schakowsky, was tied for 24th. Not too bad.

There were NO Illinois US Representatives among the top 26 most conservative US House Members—great news! Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin was the most conservative. There were no Democrats on that list, either, of course.

The full lists will be interesting, but I’m glad to see that my home state is so well represented among liberals—although I’d like to see more on the lists, of course. It also doesn’t surprise me that we don’t have any seriously rightwing conservatives—Illinois just isn’t that kind of state (in 2012, Illinois voters kicked out their “Teapublican” US Representatives, replacing them with Democrats). Illinois has long been a mostly moderate state that sometimes goes a bit right of centre, and sometimes a bit to the left.

All of which are more reasons I’m proud to be from that state.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I hardly ever do blogging memes. Mostly, I just don’t get around to it, other times I’m frankly not interested. But here’s something a little unusual, even for me.

Back in September 2009, one of my Facebook (and real life) friends tagged me in a Facebook meme called “Honest Answers”, and I only did it because he’s one of my very most favouritist people. As it happens, it’s pretty benign as memes go, but my answers painted a sort of picture of me when I’m in a playful mood.

However, I’d forgotten all about doing it until I was trolling around my Facebook page and found it tucked away in some obscure corner. I decided to share it here, partly because most of it is still current.

However, as is my usual practice, I’m not tagging anyone; if you want to do the meme, by all means do so, but don’t feel obligated. If you do the meme, however, put a link to your post in the comments to this one so I can see your answers.

So, here we go, back to 2009, with the original Facebook-centric instructions included:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A first at the Plaza

This short film is about the first wedding of a same-gender couple at the famed Plaza Hotel in New York City. When I watch films like this, I honestly cannot understand why anyone would try to stand in the way of couples like Jason and Tony, or why anyone would think Jason and Tony’s kids shouldn’t have a legally protected family. What right do they have to sit in self-righteous judgement of others, or to deny that the love of Jason and Tony isn’t every bit as real and valid and important as the love of an opposite-sex couple? How dare they stand in the way?!

I’d say more, but I seem to have something in my eye…

Pseudo holiday?

The USA had a holiday today (Monday there). But is it a real one? And, if so, what’s it called?

The holiday is Presidents’ Day. Or, President’s Day. Or, Presidents Day. Or, just to throw a curve, George Washington’s Birthday. It turns out there’s no agreement on what the day should be called—or how to punctuate it.

My sister tipped me to an article on Yahoo! News that referred to something published on the site of a firm called Geometrx. They reported that 41 US states observe Washington, Lincoln or a Presidents’ Day holiday, with 38 of those observing a holiday on the third Monday in February. Nine states observe Washington’s Birthday only, and 24 observe Washington’s Birthday only. A further nine don’t observe any one of these holidays at all.

Confused? Well, how about the fact that this applies only to states? The federal government observes a federal holiday on the third Monday in February, and that means that federally-chartered banks, the post office and federal offices are all closed—even in states that don’t observe a holiday on that date. To confuse people even more, for the federal government, it’s Washington’s Birthday.

Here’s some more confusion, from the Yahoo! story:
The real challenge is sorting through the varying punctuation of “presidents”–it’s enough to make any copy editor dizzy. In 17 states it’s Presidents’ Day (plural possessive), in five states it’s Presidents Day (plural), and in four states it’s President’s Day (singular possessive). Much to the chagrin of copy editors, there is nothing close to national consensus on the pseudo-holiday’s name.
The main reason that the name of the holiday stuck, again according to Yahoo!, is that car dealers adopted it in the 1970s as a good day for sales and promotions. Other retailers followed suit and the rest is, well, history—even though the day isn’t.

When I lived in Illinois, I seldom got Presidents’ (etc.) Day off. But schools, state and local government offices DID close on February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday it’s that whole “Land of Lincoln” thing), but I only got that off when I was in school.

So, whatever they call the day, I hope my friends and family in the USA had a nice third Monday in February!

Tip o’ the Hat to Amerinz’s Sis

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Paul Harvey meme

Ever since that awful Super Bowl ad for Dodge Ram trucks, numerous parodies have been made, and others, like this one, make other points. Even though this is technically an ad, too, I’m posting it as a way to sort of dilute the original.

I thought that Dodge ad was awful because I couldn’t stand Paul Harvey: I’d turn the radio to a different channel when his commentaries came on. I thought he was absolutely insufferable, with his sickly-sweet word choice, his cloying sentimentality and his affected delivery—there was absolutely nothing about his commentaries I liked. And all of that is without even talking about the rightwing political views he promoted.

The commentary used in the truck ad is basically everything I despised about his commentaries in one sickly-sweet, way overly sentimental, absurd mess. Naturally, America’s wingnuts loved it. So, helping to dilute that memory by posting a video like this one is practically a public service.

I’m sure there will be a few more videos in this meme, but I doubt I’ll be posting any. This one let me deliver a message and have a rant about the original ad and Paul Harvey. So, Good Day!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

By the numbers

I’m fascinated by statistics, especially demographic data. They provide a look at a population that the stories in history or contemporary journalism can’t provide by themselves. Sometimes, though, such data is problematic.

Whenever people start talking about the percentage of people in the USA who are LGBT, it is often to serve a political agenda, and seldom based on reliable information. That's because there are problems with the data.

The first problem is getting respondents to answer pollsters’ questions about their sexual orientation honestly. There are plenty of places where it’s dangerous to be publicly identified as LGBT, and that simple reality gives LGBT people a strong incentive to lie to strangers on the phone. This can also be true for census responses, where such data is collected. Worse, it’s almost impossible to correct for people lying about their sexual orientation.

So, polls determining the number of LGBT people always undercount our actual numbers. If you add in people who self-identify as heterosexual but who have same-sex sexual experiences, the numbers get even bigger.

The Gallup organisation has released the results of a nationwide poll that asked, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?” They found:
The percentage of U.S. adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) ranges from 1.7% in North Dakota to 5.1% in Hawaii and 10% in the District of Columbia, according to Gallup surveys conducted from June-December 2012. Residents in the District of Columbia were most likely to identify as LGBT (10%). Among states, the highest percentage was in Hawaii (5.1%) and the lowest in North Dakota (1.7%), but all states are within two percentage points of the nationwide average of 3.5%.
That 3.5% figure is interesting because nearly two years ago the Williams Institute released a report that reported the same percentage. The radical right anti-gay industry immediately and dishonestly seized on a sub-set of the data to try and imply that LGBT people made up no more than 1.7% of the US population. In other words, they lied to advance their political agenda (nothing unusual about their behaviour, of course—lying is their main tactic). The anti-gay industry will, no doubt, find something about this poll to lie about, too, but here in the reality-based world, it’s significant that the overall estimated percentage of LGBT people is fairly consistent.

Also interesting is that the District of Columbia has the largest percentage of LGBT people. Last month, United Van Lines released their 36th annual migration study, indicating the US states most people were moving to and from. Again, the District of Columbia topped the list of places people were moving to. Coincidence? Well, yes, actually, but as Gallup noted, “States with high LGBT percentages tend to be more liberal and have more supportive LGBT legal climates,” and DC certainly has that, so in that sense, it’s not a surprise that people would want to move there, LGBT or not.

These numbers are interesting, even if they do under-report our actual numbers. However, they’re irrelevant when it comes to our civil and human rights. As I wrote in that post two years ago that I linked to above:
We are entitled to be treated as full and equal citizens BECAUSE WE ARE, not because of how many of us there are. We are entitled to human rights because we are human beings, not because of what we do or don’t do sexually with whom. This is about equal rights and equal protection under law, not about duelling statisticians.
That’s still true, of course, and even the bigots in the anti-gay industry know that.

Illinois Senate Democrats advocating marriage equality

From the YouTube video description:
“Several members of the Illinois Senate Democratic caucus talk about same-sex marriage during the Feb. 14 debate of Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.”
There are some heartfelt pleas in these speeches. Among my favourite lines were two from Sen. Toi Hutchinson who said, speaking specifically to GLBT parents and their children, “Please know that there are people of faith who see you and hear you.” She then added, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, “Please know that we understand that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Clearly, she gets it.

The final vote for passage was 34-21. The bill now moves to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Illinois Wins, Part One

Today, Valentine’s Day in the USA, the Illinois State Senate voted to enact marriage equality. I’m a native of Illinois, so I’m especially proud of my native US state for doing the right thing. Now, it’s on to the Illinois House and, after it approves marriage equality, the Governor’s signature. This is a good day, with more to come.

Well done, Illinois!!

The losing side

The radical right religious folks hellbent, as it were, on stopping marriage equality are losing—and they know it. The tide has inarguably turned against them.

Last November, of course, voters in four out of four US states rejected the anti-gay religious extremists, and in three of those states they approved marriage equality (the fourth refused to amend their state constitution to forever ban it). Since then, marriage equality bills have been moving through state legislatures, including just today, when the Illinois Senate passed a marriage equality bill (the bill is expected to pass the Illinois House soon and it will be signed into law by the Illinois Governor).

Here in New Zealand, the marriage equality bill passed its first reading in Parliament, and the select committee report will be presented to Parliament the end of this month. No one seriously doubts the bill will become law, and the first same-gender couples will marry next year.

Yesterday morning, Bob “Slippery Slope!” McCoskrie seemed to admit defeat with the Tweet above. The link was to his own website for Protect [sic] Marriage NZ, where he commented on the GayNZ story. He specifically quoted this part, and the emphasis (italics and boldface) is entirely his:
This afternoon, in a brief speech from the main stage of the Get It On Big Gay Out, Key upped the ante, confirming his intention to vote for the bill in its next two readings, and expressing his belief that many other MPs will follow his lead.

"As PM I think if I vote for it a whole lot of MPs will vote for it too," he said, to a warm reception from the crowd.”
That’s a pretty clear indication that Key expects his MPs to vote for the bill. What Bob didn’t quote was the paragraph above it, which suggested that Key told his MPs to vote on the First Reading as they anticipated voting on the final vote on the bill. That means, first, we now know why the vote tally on the First Reading was so unexpectedly high, and second, final passage is assured.

Bob knows all this, so he is trying every diversionary tactic he can think of. In his comment, he wrote: “By the way, have you checked out the website of the official sponsors www.getiton.org.nz ?? NOT recommended.”

It’s so cute what Bob did there: GayNZ often adds a “Not Recommended” to links to anti-gay rightwing sites or propaganda (including Bob’s). But Bob’s “BTW” is irrelevant.

Get It On is a project promoting safe sex for gay men, especially to reduce risk of exposure to HIV and other STIs. Its site is explicit, as such a site would be expected to be—but that has nothing to do with the Big Gay Out, which is “family-friendly”!

Bob put the name in italics and added “not recommended” in keeping with the rightwing’s general anti-sex focus as well as trying to insinuate that everything about gay people is about sex (a topic in itself). Still, Big Gay Out is not about sex nor is it explicit. Bob was being dishonest (again) with his whole “by the way” addendum. That’s typical for him, of course.

As we draw closer to the final enactment of marriage equality in New Zealand, I fully expect to see Bob try even more hysterical (in both senses of the word) scaremongering. He’ll fail in his goal, but more, he’ll portray himself and his groups as political and religious extremists, and as bigots. And that, more than anything else, is why they’re the losing side.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dumbing down Americans

We all know the newsmedia often dumbs down its reporting, and that Americans are ill informed about the world. Today I saw a small news story linking the two.

On Yahoo’s golf blog, “Devil Ball”, Shane Bacon reported that Swedish golfer Daniela Holmqvist was playing in the Women's Australian Open in Yarralumla when she felt a sharp pain in her leg, looked down and saw a spider crawling off her. He wrote, “the caddies immediately identified it as a Black Widow.”

He apparently got the news from Women’s Golf Digest, which reported in detail on her somewhat grisly self-surgery, and added: “She'd just been informed that a Black Widow bite can kill a child in as little as 30 minutes”.

There are some problems with this story:
  • Black Widows do not live in Australia; the local related species, which is different, is called the Redback (Warning: Link has spider photo!). An Australian—and one presumes there were some around her—would have called it a Redback.
  • People generally don’t die from Black Widow OR Redback bites. In fact, there haven’t been any recorded deaths in Australia since 1956. Talking about the bites killing children “in as little as 30 minutes” without pointing out it doesn’t happen is hyperbole for mere dramatic effect. 
This is obviously a minor and unimportant story, but because it is, it's easier to show how the newsmedia works, and part of the reason why Americans know so little about the world. The reports should have used the correct species name, rather than the American one. The report shouldn’t have talked about the spiders killing children when, in fact, no one has been killed in Australia in more than half a century.

This all matters, first, because accuracy matters: If there are factual errors in a news report, one must necessarily question everything in that report—it becomes impossible to trust that reporter or the newsmedia outlet. Second, by insisting on reporting stories in American terms, it reinforces Americans’ ignorance about the world, leading many Americans to believe that the entire world is just like America.

New Zealand, by the way, has its own related species, the Katipo (Warning: Link has spider photo!), which is endangered. It is extremely rare, and no deaths have been recorded since the 19th century. Also, unlike most other widow species, the female Katipo doesn’t kill and eat the male after mating (which is where the species’ family name “widow” comes from; most other species practice what is usually called “sexual cannibalism”—nice name, eh?).

So, in this post others’ errors have been corrected and you’ve learned more than you did in either “OMG! SPIDERS!” golf story. See how easy that was? Too bad more journalists don’t treat their readers’ intelligence with that kind of respect, especially on subjects that really do matter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dickhead Smith

Every country has “colourful” characters, folks who say outrageous, over-the-top things and sometimes get in trouble for it. Often these irascible eccentrics are strangely endearing, other times just strange. But sometimes they also go too far.

One of Australia’s many such people is Dick Smith, who founded the eponymous electronics store chain in Australia (and later New Zealand). He’s been an adventurer, sometime activist on somewhat quixotic campaigns and, well, colourful.

He sold the chain of stores that bears his name some 30 years ago. Nowadays, he has Dick Smith Foods a company he founded to produce “iconic” Australian food products in Australia after the brands had been acquired by foreign—usually American—conglomerates.

One of the products, “Ozemite”, is a version of Australian standard Vegemite, now owned by USA’s Kraft Foods. But his chutzpah and cheek has gotten him into trouble. In 2003. Arnott’s Biscuits (owned by USA’s Campbell Soup Company) sued Smith because his “Temptin” chocolate biscuits, they said, “diluted” their brand “Tim Tam”, in part because the packaging was too similar. An out of court settlement resulted in Smith making the “p” in the name bigger—and hiring a member of the Arnott’s family to appear in one of his commercials for “Temptins”.

Now, Smith is in trouble again. Wattie’s (owned by USA’s H.J. Heinz Foods) is threatening to sue Smith over his labelling of tinned beetroot (what Americans call beets). The labels say: "When American-owned Heinz decided to move its beetroot processing facility from Australia to New Zealand causing hundreds of lost jobs, we decided enough is enough. So we are fighting back against poor quality imported product."

Heinz says that it’s not true that there were “hundreds of lost jobs” and took exception to Smith’s characterising New Zealand produce as “poor quality”. You’d think Kiwis would object to that characterisation as well, but most probably didn’t even know the corporate intrigue was going on.

Until today.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Commenting successfully

This blog has seldom had many comments. There are times when there are spikes in the number, but generally it’s pretty quiet—as it is on the majority of small blogs.

That’s precisely why the commenting problem was such a big deal: I spent way too much time dealing with spam in order to keep things clear for the few who left real comments.

For that reason, the new system has been an unqualified success: Not a single spam comment has been posted to the blog since I switched to the Disqus system. Such comments are still sometimes posted directly to blogger, but I don’t think there’s any way that an ordinary person would see the spam comment or two that still get past Blogger’s inept filters (the two systems, technically, run in parallel) because I changed the HTML code for mobile devices; until I did, mobile devices bypassed Disqus and were the only place such comments appeared.

However, there has been one cost: People who use old web browsers can’t leave comments because old browsers can’t utilise features like Disqus. While being able to comment is good, it’s perhaps not the best reason to keep web browsers up to date: Security is.

All browsers have some security vulnerabilities, most of which are fixed by periodic updates. However, there comes a point when a new browser version is launched and, eventually, support and updates for old browsers ends. When that happens, old browsers leave the user's computer vulnerable.

The second-best reason to keep browsers up to date is that they can then use all the features of websites (including Disqus and many more). No web developer supports all browsers ever made—it would far too expensive to do so and, in any case, it’s impossible to make some features backward compatible.

So, for me this new commenting system has accomplished exactly what I wanted it to. Most commenters can use the new system easily enough, and those few with old browsers who can’t just might be spurred on to finally update. In that case, we’ll all win.

One good thing

For only the second time, I get to praise the current pope: I think it’s good he quit. I just wish he’d done it in 2005.

Joseph Ratzinger was a political adversary decades before the Roman church’s hierarchy elected him pope. In 1986, while he was still the head of the church office formerly known as The Inquisition, he issued an edict to bishops called On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. In it, he wrote: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."

The reaction of nearly every activist I knew at the time could probably best be summed up in a common two-word epithet, the second word being “you” and the first beginning with “F” and generally meaning sexual intercourse. While catholic apologists at the time tried to claim that Ratzinger also condemned violence against LGBT people, that was mere spin and absolutely not true. What Ratzinger actually said was that LGBT people brought violence upon themselves by being open and accepted and because governments dared to recognise our civil and human rights.

The Roman church’s bishops put the letter into practice by expelling the catholic GLBT group Dignity from holding mass on church property. Prior to that, many major US cities had Dignity masses being held in Catholic churches. After Ratzinger’s letter, they were expelled.

Of course, catholic apologists tried to spin that, too, claiming that Dignity left voluntarily. All they had to do to stay in Catholic churches, apologists said, was accept Ratzinger’s claim—you know, that they all had an “objective disorder” and that their very natures were “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”. Self-loathing is never a healthy thing, so Dignity was forced out of Catholic churches, and claims to the contrary are mere apologist spin.

So, yeah, never a fan of Joseph Ratzinger.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Big Gay Out 2013

This year, for the first time, we went to Auckland’s Big Gay Out. We went with our niece on what turned out to be one of the hottest days I’ve ever experienced in Auckland.

Fortunately, we found shady areas under massive trees where we could take refuge. It turned out that the breeze was strong and cool there. I also, finally, started wearing a hat when out in the sun. Yeah, took me long enough.

The Big Gay Out is held every year at Coyle Park in Auckland’s Point Chevalier (pronounced “shev-ah-LEER”). This year was its 14th year, and our first time there.

I met in real life a couple people I know only from Twitter, which was nice, but mostly it was just about walking around and people watching (between cooling-in-the-shade breaks).

The photos with this post are among the few I took, all on my phone. The photo above is a photo of Auckland Harbour (the bridge is barely visible between those flag/banner things, and Rangitoto is also in the background). Along the right side is the recruitment bus and booth for the New Zealand Defence Force (our military has welcomed GLBT service members for a very, very long time).

The photo below is of the police recruitment booth (the military bus is in the left side of the photo). I’m old enough that I always notice when I see military and police recruiting openly-LGBT members; when I was younger, that was absolutely unthinkable. That’s part of why I chose those two photos.

The other reason is that I didn’t realise that the better digital camera I brought with me had been switched to video, so I didn’t get any photos of Prime Minister John Key speaking to the crowd (the New Zealand Herald has plenty of photos). However, I did hear him pledge to vote in favour of the marriage equality bill and he expressed his hope that we’ll soon have same-gender couples marrying in New Zealand (P.S. this is, of course, what a real conservative should say…). He also pledged that the Pride Festival will continue next year, though I have no idea what he meant by that. Maybe in his role as Tourism Minister he’ll ensure it receives funding?

Anyway, I didn’t see any other party leaders, though they were there at some point. I did see openly gay Green Party MP Kevin Hague, however. The US Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, who is also openly gay, was there, too (though I didn’t see him, either). He Tweeted about the BGO.

What I really liked about the day was seeing all the people comfortable in themselves, relaxed and happy to let other people be themselves, too. What I didn’t like was the heat and intense sun, some music was probably louder than it needed to be. I was also sad to see signs at BGO info booths warning people that the media were there and might be taking photos. It’s 2013, and I really wish we were beyond that.

The BGO is something that every LGBT person and LGBT-ally in Auckland should attend at least once, and I’m glad we finally had a chance to go (and especially glad that our niece could come with us). It was a nice day in a great location. Still, I’m not sure we’ll go again, at least, probably not next year. But, then, you just never know.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Democracy in the mail

What will happen to democracy as post offices die?

Last week, I wrote about a suggestion that New Zealand Post might cut back residential mail delivery to three days a week. I noted then that “drastic change is inevitable”. Surprisingly, though, I hadn’t considered the impact of this on the democratic process.

Writing on the Election Academy blog of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Doug Chapin notes, “the impact is especially keen in the elections field, where growing reliance on vote-by-mail and absentee ballots has made election officials and the Post Office partners in the delivery and receipt of ballots.”

In the USA, Washington state and Oregon have gone completely mail-only. Some 40% of voters in California—which has more voters than any other state—were postal voters in 2010.

Here in New Zealand, local government elections are conducted entirely by mail, and sometimes referenda are, too, like the infamous rightwing pro-smacking referendum in 2009 (the link is the source of the photo above). It will be extremely difficult to get ballots out to all 3,079,754 enrolled voters in New Zealand (as at 31 January 2013; link to current stats) with enough time for them to fill out the ballots and post them back before the deadline.

Chapin wrote that Oregon is looking at posting election materials earlier, and that’s clearly what Elections New Zealand would have to do, too. They would also have to increase the number of secure locations for people to drop off their completed ballots. This option is proving increasingly popular in Washington State.

But it seems to me that the decline of the increasingly antique postal system ought to spur development of a 21st Century solution for elections, too. People moan all the time about how online voting can “never” be safe enough, or free of fraud, but that’s utter nonsense. People rely on Internet banking to conduct their daily lives, so it’s absurd to say that we can’t come up with an online electoral system that’s at least as safe and secure as that.

Overall, voter fraud is pretty rare. In the US, postal ballots are far more likely to be rejected than in-person ballots, but that’s due primarily to errors, poor handwriting, etc., and not suspected fraud. We can expect mistakes to be the leading cause of rejection of online voting, too.

I’ll admit that if I lived in the US I’d be highly suspicious of any move toward online voting, too—there’s a very high incentive for people to manipulate the results for political gain. But the fact that there are corrupt politicians or corrupt voters doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of people are honest and would embrace online voting if given the chance. Build in the safeguards, make sure the whole process is open, transparent and well-documented, and there’s no reason it can’t be as safe and reliable as postal voting, or even in-person voting.

Maybe the slow death of postal systems will be the shove that governments need to come up with a modern, 21st Century voting system that includes online voting in the mix. If so, that will be one good result.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

NZ’s national day

Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s national day, commemorating the signing of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between some Maori tribes and the British Crown. What, precisely, the two sides were agreeing to has been argued about ever since.

Most countries don’t argue on their national day, though many take little notice, either. Some, especially the USA and Australia, make a very big deal out of observing their national days. Ours is more, um, reflective. In a way, that's fitting for a country founded on a treaty (as I wrote about Waitangi Day the February after I started this blog).

I think sometimes that important fact gets missed: Other countries' national days celebrate things like revolutions, coups, invastions—violence of some sort. But New Zealand was founded as a treaty between two peoples. It kind of figures that there have been a few disagreements over the years (today Al Jazeera posted a good summation of Kiwi attitudes toward the day).

The photo at top was posted to Facebook by George Wood, a conservative Auckland Councillor and National Party ally. I think it shows a certain symbolism of Waitangi Day—the two peoples, side by side. But George wrote, “Is this the price of MMP? New flag on Auckland Harbour Bridge!” In 2007 Transit New Zealand changed their policy so that only the New Zealand Flag would fly on the bridge unless the NZ Government ordered otherwise. George is trying to imply that National only made the order as a sop to its allies in the Maori Party—who, in fact, are in Parliament because they won electorate seats, not because of MMP.

And that’s the real, unremarkable truth about Waitangi Day: It’s ours to make of it whatever we want. Those who want conflict can have it. Those who want to use the day for political point-scoring (left or right) can have that. And the vast majority who just enjoy a day off in summer can have that, too.

A nation’s people being free to treat their national day in whatever way they want—isn’t that the whole point of having a national day? Shouldn’t we all be free to observe/reflect/protest/celebrate/enjoy our national day our way? Clearly we should—even if some people don’t like others having that freedom. But I do think it's important to remember how important the day actually is, and how rare New Zealand's founding was.

So, Happy Waitangi Day—or not; your choice.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks in 1955.
February 4 (today in the US) is the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, one of the icons of the USA’s Civil Rights Movement. The photo at right shows her in 1955, the year she famously refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. That refusal, and her arrest for “disorderly conduct”, led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King (also pictured).

It’s hard for young people to imagine what those times must have been like, but Parks defiance didn’t happen in a vacuum, with several murders committed in the months before. In August 1955, Emmet Till was murdered because he supposedly flirted with a white woman. Earlier that month, civil rights activist Lamar Smith was shot to death in broad daylight, allegedly with many white witnesses having seen the killer. In May of that year, civil rights activist George W. Lee was shot as he as driving, forcing him to run off the road. He died before he got to the hospital.

What those three murders had in common was that they were committed because the victims were black. Till was 14 when he was murdered, and became a symbol of violent racism in the South. What connected Smith and Lee was the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, through which they were fighting for voting rights. Parks attended a meeting of the RCNL a few days before her famous act of civil disobedience.

I learned about Rosa Parks in school, but not about the others; that came years later. I think it’s important to realise what that atmosphere was like in order to fully understand how powerful and even poetic a simple act like refusing to give up a bus seat was. I was incorrectly taught, however, that Parks refused to stand up because she was tired. She wrote in her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story (link is to Amazon):
People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
Much of the change in the years after Rosa Parks’ defiance happened slowly, and some wounds have still not healed. No one was ever convicted for the murders of Till, Smith or Lee, though Till’s murderers confessed in an interview after they were acquitted and could no longer be tried for their crime.

As for Parks, she eventually moved to Detroit, where she died in 2005, aged 92. In the photo below, from April 2012, President Barack Obama sits in the bus that Rosa Parks remained seated in (the bus is now in the Henry Ford Museum). He’s seated in the same row, but on the opposite side of the bus, as Parks.

When I think of Rosa Parks, I remember a slogan from my activist days that went something like this: “Rosa Parks sat down so others could stand up.” I always liked that for the way it shows how even small acts can have big, positive consequences. The world is a better place because of people like Rosa Parks, and we should never forget that.

President Obama sits in the same row, but opposite side, of the bus where Rosa Parks made history.
The photos used in this post were taken by the US Government and are in the public domain.

Monday, February 04, 2013

New Zealand: World’s most free

A new study says that New Zealanders have the most freedom in the world. The conclusion is in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom.

To be honest, I was prepared to dismiss this index (about which, more later), until I read what the editor of the project, Fred McMahon, said about it:
“Our intention is to measure the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly—in each country surveyed. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women’s freedoms.” [emphasis added]
I can’t remember any other index or ranking that has taken gay rights into account when measuring freedom. In the case of this index, the raw data for that aspect comes from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which is an independent, non-partisan international NGO, and is arguably the best source for data on these issues.

That’s important because an index like this, which draws on available research and official data, is only as good or credible as its source material. In this case, while I haven’t read every chapter of the book, what I saw looked solid and reliable.

This came as a surprise to me because I was prepared to dismiss the index because it’s from a Canadian “think tank”, the Fraser Institute, which is variously described as conservative, libertarian or both. Given their stance of pursuing "a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility" [emphasis added], I expected the index to be promoting neoconservative/libertarian dogma. It’s not that simple.

When talking about personal freedom, they sound more like classic libertarians, and not at all like neoconservatives, who often are usually actually plutocrats and oligarchs, willing to sacrifice the personal freedom of people in order to gain more corporate power and greater personal wealth. This report doesn’t seem to come from such people, obsessed with selfishness, but rather seems to be based on a more traditionally—and genuinely—libertarian approach. If I get the chance, I’ll try to read the whole thing to draw firmer conclusions.

In the meantime, while I can’t properly or fairly evaluate their entire index, most of the criteria they used seem sound enough. And, of course, it’s always pleasing to see New Zealand ranked as best in the world at something—especially freedom.

The rankings for countries I write about the most are: 1. New Zealand, 2. The Netherlands, 3. Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and Ireland tied for fourth, the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, Japan and Estonia tied for ninth. The United Kingdom was in 18th place. The lowest-ranked countries are Syria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe in last place.

Speaking truth is important

Calling our political adversaries names is never a good idea. We hear that all the time. But what about when it’s justified? What about when accuracy demands it?

I think that sometimes there’s a necessity for using the correct names to describe what people say or do or how bad their ideas are, even if sometimes they complain.

I wrestle constantly with whether I should say what I really think about our adversaries and their ideas. I usually don’t. You can tell I don’t because what I say about them isn’t laced with expletives; when it is, I’m saying what I really think.

Instead, I use quote marks to indicate that a word doesn’t actually apply to them (the most common example, probably, is “Christian”). I also use “[sic]” to indicate that what they say is absurd, like any number of extremist rightwing groups that put the word family in their name. This is common practice in non-political contexts to indicate the word is in the original text, but it’s odd or wrong. For example, newspapers will sometimes include a wrong word in a direct quote and follow it with sic in brackets. This lets readers know the person actually said it and the journalist wasn’t making a mistake.

I also use specific words and phrases with specific meanings, such as extremist, theocratic, far right, anti-gay, bigot, hatred and—extremely rarely—fascist. When I use such words I mean them, so I don’t use them just for rhetorical flourish. This is very unlike our adversaries who use such words—especially fascist, bully, intolerant—with giddy abandon.

What I do is actually a toned-down version of what our rightwing adversaries do with impunity. The reason it’s toned down isn’t merely a matter of taste, style or manners, but because every time someone on our side says something about our adversaries that’s even mildly intemperate, they put on their martyrs’ caps and launch into yet another fauxrage about how our side is so awful, mean, nasty, intolerant, fascistic, etc., etc. And then they turn around and put out something about us that’s filled with distortions, smears and outright lies, but that’s okay, because it’s them doing it. They think it’s okay to call us whatever vile names they want, and to blatantly make stuff up or else lie about stuff that’s real, because they’re not being awful, mean, nasty, intolerant, fascistic—they don’t admit they even can be because it’s them, not us.

There are times, however, when ideas that are either extremely stupid or a danger to liberty get me too angry to apply the rhetorical brakes. There are some political people who say things that are so moronic, so filled with hatred and bigotry that they must be called out.

Because there are so many—far too many—times the rightwing has made me angry lately, and applying those rhetorical brakes would have been impossible, I’ve mostly chosen to say nothing at all (my two-day rule has had a real work out in recent months). That can’t last.

And, really, why should I always be restrained? Toward what end? They won’t stop their vile rhetoric against our side no matter what we say or do. When we don’t respond to their attacks, we surrender the field of battle to them and they take it as a victory they’ll build upon to also use against us. They’ll attack us either way, so why shouldn’t I up for what’s right?

Evil must always be challenged—always. I cannot, and will not, promise to always be restrained in my rhetoric or in the strength of my counter attack (my two-day rule really does help, though). I respect the right of others to take the tack they choose, but I insist on that same right for myself. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong—but other times I’ll get it right.

Speaking truth is too important.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Improved commenting

I’m transitioning this blog to the Disqus commenting system. It should be better for everyone, but even more so me because it should mean less work.

Disqus is the largest third-party commenting system, used by blogs, mainstream news sites and plenty of others to make commenting robust and full-featured. It’s also better at killing spam than Blogger’s built-in comment system.

Because Disqus is so big, chances are good that most active blog commenters already have a Disqus account (I’ve had one for a very long time). However—and this is important—no one needs to have an account in order to leave a comment. Instead, anyone can create a pseudonym or comment anonymously, just as before. However, setting up a Disqus account gives users the ability to take part in discussions in ways than anonymous/pseudonymous comments don’t allow. At the very least, pick a pseudonym you always use (about which, more below)

Here’s some of what’s new:
  • Clicking on “Comments and reactions” now opens that post, not a pop up window. You may not even notice at first if it’s the current post, so you may need to scroll down. This is actually how I had Blogger set up back when I first started this blog. When the post opens happens, you’ll also notice—maybe for the first time—an icon that says “Print PDF” at the bottom, before the commenting area. That uses Print Friendly so that you can print the post or create a PDF of it. I added that feature a long time ago, but never mentioned it.
  • Comments are in reverse order—newest at the top. That’s the opposite of how they used to be displayed, and may take some getting used to. On the other hand, it’ll also make it easy to see new comments. Update: Doh! Because I don't use Disqus all that much, I didn't notice that you can change that, showing comments oldest first, newest first or "best" (which means comments people like). The "Discussion" tab, right above the top comment, has a drop-down menu for you to choose what you like best. The default is newest first.
  • Comments are now threaded, which means you can reply directly to a comment, rather than post one at the end. Blogger actually offered this feature, but I didn’t use it because the timestamp was Google’s home time zone (Pacific USA), not the time zone of my blog. It’s a small thing, I know, but it really annoyed me.
  • You can also share a comment on Twitter and Facebook, or you can link to it. I’ve never shared a comment on social media, but I have sometimes linked to comments (linking was possible under Blogger’s commenting system, too, but it wasn’t as obvious or easy).
  •  I get stronger protection against spam comments. I can now blacklist really naughty people and whitelist really nice ones. The blacklist blocks them from commenting (something I’ve never felt compelled to do in all these years), and whitelisting allows me to let certain preferred commenters bypass some of the filters (like spam).
At the moment, I have almost everything set to the defaults, so there may be some further changes behind the scenes if I don’t have spam protection set strongly enough. If there’s anything that folks would notice, I’ll mention it in a post. Otherwise, probably not.

Apparently, all the old comments have now been transferred, so they should all be there now. We should be able to carry on where we left off.

If you have trouble, or something doesn’t seem to work correctly, you can always email me (email link is on the righthand sidebar). But because this system is so ubiquitous, I don’t think any of us will have trouble adjusting.

Now that this is sorted, we can get back to—ahem—disqusions (yeah, I had to go there…).

Update: I've already noticed that the line at the bottom of posts that reads "Comments and Reactions" doesn't update the counts quickly. So, what it says—especially on new posts—may not be an accurate count. I'll look into that.

Update 2: No answer yet for the problem in the first update, but now a new one: A real comment from "Anonymous" shows up in Blogger itself, but hasn't made it through Disqus—even though others made later did. My settings should allow them through. Maybe they take longer to get through the spam filters. I guess we'll see, but it's also probably an argument for choosing an identity of some sort.

Update 3: The problem in the Update 2 is solved! It turns out that Blogger's mobile device format doesn't support widgets, which is what Disqus is, and THAT means comments posted to mobile devices are posted to Blogger, NOT Disqus. So, I edited the HTML to force the mobile template to use Disqus. From now on, ALL comments, whether from a mobile device or a computer will go through Disqus.

On the other hand those
comments from Anonymous are trapped in Blogger. I could import again, but I'm leery of doing that because it might import the other comments again, too, doubling them up. So, I think it's best we all just move on—now that it's fixed!

Friday, February 01, 2013

A new month

It’s a new month, but the problems are the same.

Every day begins the same way: I start by deleting spam from my blog, since Google allows obvious spam to be posted as comments. Then, I purge the dozens of spam comments in the moderation queue and spam purgatory. Every single day.

Since dealing with spam is obviously beyond the capability of Google (Blogger), I’m about to switch to a third-party system. I’ll publish a blog post about that when it happens, but for now, just be aware it’s about to happen. It’ll be better. No, really.

Um, I hope?